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Soaring Gas Prices ... But Commuting Habits Are Unchanged

August 2008 Survey Finds Americans Driving to Work in Droves Despite Soaring Gas Prices

The “Working in America: Drivers Cope with Soaring Gas Prices” survey shows that Americans are finding ways to cut back on spending - but not commuting - in tough economic times

With gas prices soaring, Americans are feeling the pain at the pump. According to a new survey, “Working in America: Drivers Cope with Soaring Gas Prices” sponsored by The Workforce Institute at Kronos® Incorporated and conducted online via Harris Interactive®, very few of them are changing the way they commute to work. Seventy-seven percent of survey respondents say they primarily drive to and from work, with only seven percent taking public transportation and only four percent carpooling. A full 68 percent of respondents who work outside the home say the price of gas has not changed how they get to and from work.

The majority of respondents are not changing their commuting practices and they're not getting any help from their employers either. An overwhelming 80 percent of respondents say that their employer has not provided them with any benefits to help cope with the higher price of gas. Among the benefits being offered that are helping workers: telecommuting (8 percent), subsidized public transportation (four percent), compressed work schedule (four percent); and organizing/supporting carpools (three percent).

“There are several ways that employers can take a more active role in helping employees deal with higher gas prices,” said Joyce Maroney, director of The Workforce Institute at Kronos Incorporated. “Whether it's allowing employees to work from home when it makes good business sense, scheduling employees to work compressed workweeks, or connecting them with co-workers who live in their area and work similar hours for potential carpools, these tactics can go a long way in easing the financial burden on employees.”

Cutting back

While American workers are not changing the way they commute to work, they are making other lifestyle changes to cope with gas prices and current economic conditions. Sixty-nine percent of respondents say they have cut back on unnecessary spending; 59 percent say they are driving less; 57 percent are going out to eat less; and 30 percent have postponed a vacation because of the state of the economy.

In addition, of those surveyed who hold more than one job, 61 percent say they do so because of financial obligations (mortgage, medical bills, debt repayment, etc.) while 43 percent say the higher price of gas is a factor.

“Between relentless price hikes in food and energy, flat paychecks, and falling home prices, family budgets are deeply stressed,” said Jared Bernstein, Director of the Living Standards Program at The Economic Policy Institute and board member of The Workforce Institute. “Of course, businesses are stressed too, and many can't afford to compensate their workers for the higher prices they face. Thus, workplace policies that facilitate less driving make a lot of sense right now.”

Stay-cations on the rise

Of those respondents who say they have taken less vacation time this year, 65 percent say it is because they do not have the money to take a vacation. Likewise, of those who have taken vacations closer to home (within 200 miles), 38 percent say it is due to the higher price of gas.

“A lot of research points to the importance of taking vacation,” says Maroney. “Vacations enable workers to re-charge their creativity, avoid burn-out and return to work with a fresh perspective. If you don't have the money to travel, consider taking a _stay-cation' where you take time off but stay at home or closer to home. It's still time away from work, and that alone has benefit.”

Survey Methodology

The “Working in America: Drivers Cope with Soaring Gas Prices” survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Interactive on behalf of The Workforce Institute at Kronos Incorporated between July 16th and July 24th, 2008 among 1,106 U.S. adults aged 18 and over who are employed full- or part-time. There were 861 employed full-time, 274 employed part-time and 781 who had taken vacation time from their job in the past year. Results were weighted as needed for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region, and household income. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents' propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, Harris Interactive avoids the words “margin of error” as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Interactive surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the U.S. adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to be invited to participate in the Harris Interactive online research panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

Workforce Institute's opinion

Organizations have the opportunity to set an example for their employees. Why not facilitate carpooling or allow people to work from home? For more suggestions, see Joyce Maroney's blog, Running on Empty and add your comments.

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