Commuting costs put strain on Americans returning to work

Published: May. 31, 2022 at 10:39 AM EDT
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(CNN) - As inflation fuels the cost of transportation, a simple commute to work every day can take a big bite out of your wallet, and with more Americans heading into the office, they are feeling the pinch every time they fill their gas tanks.

It seems twisted that getting to work is financially crushing Liz and Scott Angstadt. Their commute is more than 500 miles each week through New Jersey with Scott Angstadt paying more than $6 a gallon for his diesel-powered truck.

Their monthly gas bill has nearly doubled in a year and is now over $1,000.

“We’ve cut back in our groceries and what we eat. We’ve cut back more than half of what we’re gonna travel this summer. You wouldn’t think that we’d be talking about money every single day,” Liz Angstadt said.

While this couple’s commute is longer than most, as more workers get called back to the office, millions are feeling the squeeze with the national average gas price more than $4.60 a gallon.

At some California stations, the price is higher than the federal minimum wage.

“It’s already bad. It could get worse, and it’s definitely not going to get much better,” Patrick DeHaan with GasBuddy said.

The average U.S. commute now costs an extra $35 a month compared to pre-COVID and it’s+ far more in cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and New York.

“I’m not able to work from home,” commuter Spencer Jewell said.

Jewell says he is paying an extra $50 a month to get to work in Greenville, North Carolina.

In Atlanta, Kiersten Ashley says gas is too pricey for her to take a job.

“It’s not worth it almost because I’m getting paid maybe $10, $12 an hour,” she said.

An international survey conducted last November found 64% of workers would consider looking for a new job if they were forced to return full time.

In Washington state, more than 100 contracted Google Maps workers signed a petition refusing to return to the office.

“It’s a huge additional expense,” Tyler Brown said.

He would have to drive 74 miles each way.

“It doesn’t make sense for me to come all that way for $19 an hour, so I’m going to have to look for a different job,” he said.

“Workers are looking at it from a standpoint of, ‘Can I afford to take that new opportunity or can I afford to stay if required to go back to the office?’” Paul McDonald with Robert Half said.

Many workers do not have easy options.

“It’s very frustrating, but there’s nothing I can do about it,” Scott Angstadt said.

He is eight years from his pension as a railroad engineer.

“To throw that away, that’s throwing away a lot,” he said.

There is no plan to change direction even as they pump the brakes on long-term plans.

“That picture has kind of altered. We might not be retiring in eight years,” Liz Angstadt said.

Some businesses are now offering gas stipends or pay bumps, while some employees push back about returning to work.

The U.S. government predicts the average household will spend hundreds of dollars more on gas this year.

For a lot of families, especially lower income, that could be a big chunk of their annual savings and some workers have no choice but to eat that cost.

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