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Rising gas prices have a magnified effect in rural North Carolina

Nick de la Canal

The average cost of a regular gallon of gas in North Carolina hit $4.18 on Thursday — the highest total ever recorded in the state — and was expected to continue climbing. That's likely squeezing the budgets of people across the state, especially those in rural areas or living on smaller incomes.

According to AAA, some of the highest gas prices in the state were in a handful of rural counties along the mountains and the coast. Among them were Yancy, Macon and Perquimans counties, where the average cost of a regular gallon of gas was at or near $4.30.

The most expensive gas in the state, according to AAA, was in Hyde County along the coast, where an average gallon of regular gas cost $4.34 on Thursday.

Allie Thomas, an assistant professor with UNC-Chapel Hill's Department of City and Regional Planning, said this should be concerning, because rural areas generally don't have robust public transit, and residents may live too far from their work or schools to bike or walk.

"There aren't any choices other than cars," Thomas said.

Hourly workers may be especially vulnerable to the rising gas prices because they're more likely to have to travel to their jobs, compared to white-collar workers who may be able to work from home.

"If you're the service worker or the hourly worker, you don't have that choice," Thomas said. "If you're the person who cleans the office, you have to go into the office."

The rising costs also come as prices for groceries and other goods have also been going up, making life even more difficult for people on small or fixed incomes.

An estimated 676,000 rural North Carolinians live in poverty, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau analyzed by the NC Rural Center. That number accounts for 17% of the state's rural population.

A spokesperson for AAA Carolinas said it's hard to know how much and for how long gas prices will rise. Thomas said the longer gas prices spike, the more stress and frustration could mount in households living on tight budgets, possibly resulting in higher levels of violence or poor mental health.

Gas prices have been rising amid the war in Ukraine and the Biden administration's decision to ban imports of Russian energy into the U.S.

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Nick de la Canal is a reporter for WFAE covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal