Gas Prices Are Actually Cheaper Than They Were a Year Ago

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Gas prices certainly don’t seem cheap. The majority of drivers around the country are paying close to or above $4 a gallon, and the story for nearly all of 2012 so far has been that prices at the pump will just keep on rising through the summer. Let’s not jinx it or anything, but the story seems to be changing: Gas prices have suddenly declined more than two weeks in a row, to the point that drivers were actually paying more for gasoline a year ago than we are right now.

As of Tuesday, according to AAA’s Fuel Gauge Report, the national average for a gallon of regular was $3.849, down from $3.58 the day before, $3.904 the week before—and $3.860 one year ago.

The Los Angeles Times reports that it’s been two and a half years since the national average dropped to a cheaper price than the year prior. In other words, gas prices have been on a more-or-less steady rise since October 2009.

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Until just recently, that is. Consumer Reports notes that gas prices over the past week have declined in all regions of the country, including an 8¢ one-week drop in the Midwest. GasBuddy reported that in addition to a decline in the national average price of gasoline, more than one-third of all states saw gas prices dip year over year, sometimes remarkably so: Nebraska and Indiana drivers are all paying 14¢ less per gallon compared to the third week in April 2011. Minnesota drivers are feeling the most relief of all, with gas prices that are 24¢ cheaper than a year ago. (On the other hand, Arizona, Washington, Colorado, Montana, and Oregon are all still paying at least 16¢ more per gallon for gas this year.)

The drop in gas prices comes as a natural result of declining gasoline price futures, as well as (relatively speaking) continued low demand for gas. The Consumerist pointed out that, in fact, prices at the pump should probably be cheaper right now. When wholesale prices drop as they have, gas stations should lower their prices as well, but that’s not how things always work.

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Instead, a period like right now is when stations can make hefty profits by keeping consumer prices high—only most consumers don’t know it, because they’re happy they’re paying less than they were the week before. And the year before, for that matter.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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