According to new data from AAA, average gas prices in Florida are creeping closer to $5 per gallon. The state average jumped 18 cents last week, reaching an all-time high of $4.76 per gallon on Sunday. It now costs $71 to fill an average-size 15-gallon tank. That's 66 percent more expensive than one year ago.
Immediate relief seems unlikely. Per AAA, gasoline made strong gains in the futures market last week, which typically translates to higher prices at the pump.
"It wouldn't be a surprise to see retailers raise their prices by another 20 cents" this week, says Mark Jenkins, a spokesman for AAA's Auto Club Group. "At this rate, it sure seems like there's very little resistance to rising prices at the pump. Five dollars a gallon is quickly become a very real possibility this summer."
Sarasota workers are feeling the pain.
The rise in fuel prices comes at a time when many companies are beginning to bring employees back to the office, even if just part-time. Kasten says a few of the chamber's member businesses are offering workers the opportunity to work from home one or two days a week to help offset the cost of driving to work. But, she concedes, that option isn't available for people who are required to be on a job site every day.
Kim Savage, the public information officer for Sarasota Memorial Hospital, writes in an email that the hospital has actively sought ways to alleviate the economic crunch for its workers, including allowing some of its non-clinical teams to work remotely.
"Among either measures, we've also provided employees gas station and grocery store gift cards, and increased the average pay raise and paid time off benefits they can earn this year," she says. "We also gave staff gift cards this year that they can use in our hospital cafeteria and cafés."
But as the region also struggles with an affordable housing crisis, Kasten says a lack of housing and high gas prices go hand-in-hand. The overall median rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Sarasota County is $1,894, while the national average is $1,320—a difference of 43.5 percent.
"People who have had to move to North Port, Parrish or Palmetto to find affordable housing are having to drive father to fill a lot of our service jobs," Kasten says. "High gas prices are a tremendous tax on everyone, but especially those who are not earning the highest wages."