Fuel for thought: Gas prices a burden for U.S. workers

Posted: Monday, October 17, 2005

The effects of natural disasters - particularly the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita - have left lasting impressions on people all over the United States. However, the soaring gas prices have hit many drivers where it hurts: their wallets.

So how will the perpetually increasing price of gas impact the job market? Experts are still debating, but one thing is for sure - it won't come cheap.

Step by step

Liz Ryan, founder of WorldWIT, a women's networking community based in Boulder, Colo., says the gas crisis will affect workers in stages.

"The first hit employers are the ones who suffer from a combination of high turnover and driving-intensive jobs where the employees pay for their own gas," she explains. "Pizza restaurants, newspapers who use home-delivery drivers, and other driving-is-your-job employers have already seen their turnover increase and, of course, it's harder than ever to hire replacements."

The next category, says Ryan, are companies whose skilled employees have to drive a long distance to work. Workers will often times be more willing to commute further for a job that pays more, however, Ryan points out that the pay increase is not worth it if you spend a good portion of it simply getting to work.

Overall impact

Alternatively, some experts believe employees should look at the big picture.

"The job market is not going to be affected in the sense that everyone is going to continue to go to work," says Dr. Boyce Watkins, professor of finance at Syracuse University in Syracuse, N.Y. "The marginal cost of gas is far lower than the marginal benefit of showing up every day. There could be a negligible impact on the choice to telecommute, but the price increase would have to be more permanent to affect this kind of change."

Employers can help

Tory Johnson, CEO of Women For Hire, an online career advice and networking community, believes employees should take a proactive approach to rising gas prices by suggesting that the company organize formal car-pooling arrangements and the like.

"Employees should take advantage of transportation reimbursement incentive programs, which can help them save tax dollars based on the cost of their daily commute," Johnson suggests. "You don't have to pay Federal and FICA taxes on commuting-related parking or transit expenses if you have money deducted from your paycheck before taxes are calculated. This helps you offset your transportation costs by using pre-tax dollars."

- Lisa Radke

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