Americans Are Working To Feed Their Cars, Not Their Families


Cars and cycle path, Montreal. Image Credit James Schwartz

James Schwartz writes The Urban Country " to show that using a bicycle for transportation is fast, fun and healthy & improves our cities, our people and the world." He also occasionally writes about how using a car for transportation is slow, annoying, polluting and destroys our cities, our people and the world. Case in point: his post Americans Work 2 Hours Each Day To Pay For Their Cars. James writes:

Imagine you could work 500 hours less every year. That works out to be an extra 12.5 weeks of vacation. Alternatively, imagine you got paid for an extra 500 hours of work each year, without having to work those extra 500 hours. That would work out to be an extra $11,000 every year for an average American making $22 per hour.

500 hours a year - or 2 hours each day - is roughly the equivalent to what the average American worker will work in order to pay for their cars (the average is between 1.46 hour/day and 2.22 hours/day depending on which data is used).

I wondered where he got these data, and he showed me his calculations, which I think are worth publishing:


  • 2006 - median household income: $50,233.00

  • 2005 - median personal income for all individuals over 18: $25,149

  • 2008 - national average number of cars per household is 2.28 cars - http://www.autospies.com/news/Study-Finds-Americans-Own-2-28-Vehicles-Per-Household-26437/

  • 2007 DOT study - 254.4 million cars in United States

  • If each car costs an average of $8,000/year (this is conservative too based on the most recent AAA study: http://www.boston.com/cars/newsandreviews/overdrive/2011/04/average_car_ownership_nearly_9000_per_year.html), and each home has 2.28 cars on average, average costs per household is $18,240/year.

  • If a household makes $50,233.00/year, and the average hourly wage is $21.90, then we can assume there are about 1.147 people per household working full time.

  • If 1 person owned 1 car on average, then they will work $8,000 / $21.90 = 365 hours per year or about 1.46 hours per week to pay fr their car

  • But since each full-time worker owns on average more than 1 car, we should calculate per household instead:

  • Assuming 2.28 cars per household, and 1.147 full time workers per household, we can calculate: $18,240 / 1.147 / $21.90 = 726 hours per year or 2.90 hours per day.


So as you can see, 2 hours a day is probably on the conservative side. It is probably closer to 2.90 hours a day to pay for the car (on average).

I found the data disturbing. Do Americans really average 2.28 cars per household? on an average $ 50K income? If so, the average homeowner in the average suburban home is completely sunk. (Gas was $2.88 per gallon when the Boston Globe study was done). The average homeowner is not working to feed and house their families; they are working to feed and house their cars.
More on the cost of driving:
Vehicle Abstinence: Youths Waiting Longer to Drive
Hypermiling Becoming More Popular as Gas Prices Rise

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