The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Tuesday January 31st

Editorial: Rising gas prices disproportionately harm college students

<p>A gas pump on Martin Luther King Boulevard &nbsp;on Monday, March 21, 2022.</p>
Buy Photos

A gas pump on Martin Luther King Boulevard  on Monday, March 21, 2022.

The recent surge in gas prices is hard to ignore. From local to national news, the plight of drivers has been one of the biggest economic problems for consumers in recent months.

International politics is partly to blame. Around three percent of U.S. crude oil comes from Russia, which is now facing sanctions for its war against Ukraine, according to The Washington Post. 

One of the countries that have issued sanctions is the United States. And while the U.S. doesn't rely on Russia for oil, issuing these sanctions makes it difficult for Russia to sell oil in international markets, and has inadvertently affected prices for countries that do get their oil from Russia. 

Furthermore, amid the Russia-Ukraine war, demand has risen, which has created the perfect conditions for exceptionally high gas prices. 

You might recall gas costing less than $2 per gallon in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. There was a lower demand for gas since fewer people were traveling due to lockdown procedures and working from home. 

But, with COVID-19 vaccinations readily available and mask mandates being lifted, many people have felt safer returning to the everyday flow of travel, leading to an increase in prices. 

No matter the reason, Americans can't help but notice high gas prices every time they swipe their card at the pump. And — really — it's those who rely on gas to get to school, work or in their daily lives that bear the brunt of these issues. 

Consumers, specifically those who identify as low-income or make low wages, are especially affected by increases in gas prices.

Workers, especially young adults, are simply not paid enough to meet their needs and are especially under-equipped to handle sudden changes in the market, such as those we face today.

As of March 21, gas costs an average of $4.08 per gallon in North Carolina. The national average is a whopping $4.25 per gallon, according to The American Automobile Association. For someone making minimum wage — $7.25 per hour in N.C. — a single gallon of gas costs more than half of an hour’s labor.

Approximately 70 percent of college students work while pursuing their degrees, and these employed students are very likely to hold minimum wage, part-time jobs, according to The Hechinger Report. 

This is especially difficult for those employees. Even worse is the situation of tipped employees, such as bartenders and waiters, who receive $2.13 per hour in N.C. In the event that tips do not bring their hourly total to $7.25, employers are required to compensate for disparities between wages paid and minimum wage. Even with this Department of Labor standard, the unpredictability of these wages puts tipped workers in a particularly precarious economic situation.

For many, gas is a necessity, like groceries or rent. Traveling to and from hometowns during break or commuting to work are activities that students are unlikely or unable to skip out on. 

If wages remain the same and inflation and prices continue to rise, individuals and families alike will begin to suffer the consequences.

It's time to empower and pay college-age employees fair wages, so they are able to interact in the economy, even when unstable supply chains cause unexpected price surges on necessities. 


CLARIFICATION:  A previous version of this article states that, for bartenders servers making $2.13 per hour, the minimum wage does not afford them a gallon of gas. While this is the correct wage for tipped employees, the N.C. Department of labor requires employers to make up the difference between wages paid and the minimum wage of $7.25. The story has been updated to reflect this information. 

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.


The Daily Tar Heel's 2023 Housing Edition

Special Print Edition

Games & Horoscopes

Print Edition Games Archive