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Related topics: family, gas prices, middle class, economy, spending

The average price of gasoline has risen to $3.815 a gallon, according to the American Automobile Association. Four-dollar gas, as a national average, may only be a month away if crude oil stays above $105 and the Libyan conflict continues.

The international oil crisis also could worsen if political unrest boils over in Nigeria -- the biggest petroleum producer in sub-Saharan Africa. Rebel attacks have shuttered oil operations there in the past.

Gas prices vary sharply from state to state. Regular unleaded fuel costs $4.17 per gallon in Alabama, while the price is below $3.50 in some other states. Part of the reason for these discrepancies is differing gas taxes, and another part has to do with the cost of transporting fuel.

Fuel costs cannot be considered in a vacuum when it comes to their effect on consumers. A household with an annual income of $250,000 may not be bothered much by $5 gas. But a household with an annual income of $35,000 could find $3.50 gas so expensive that cutbacks in other routine spending are necessary to offset the cost of driving.

24/7 Wall St. looked at factors that make gas more or less affordable by state. It examined the average price of gas, of course, but also considered conditions that influence how much the price of gas affects consumers. These included a state's median household income, unemployment levels and the proportion of people there who live below the poverty line. A state that combines high gas prices, high unemployment and low median income is likely to be one where levels of consumer spending are threatened.

This analysis shows the extent to which the U.S. economy cannot be viewed simply as a whole -- as an undifferentiated collection of 50 states. Whatever happens with the national economy, some states on this list, like Alabama or West Virginia, could be tipped back into local recessions by a combination of high gas prices and low wages.

Each of the states whose people can least afford gas has a different set of factors contributing to the effects of high fuel costs. However, much of what applies to one state could also apply to another: Gas prices will cause people to postpone vacations and defer daily expenses. Construction companies will suspend some of their activities. Businesses that deliver goods to homes or other businesses will try to raise their prices to offset their costs of transportation.

Some of the states on this list barely made it out of the last recession, if they did so at all. Some still have double-digit unemployment and high poverty levels. The sharp rise in gas prices becomes more severe for them each day.

10. Iowa

  • Median income: $50,721 (21st-highest)
  • Price of regular gasoline: $3.94 (8th-highest)
  • Unemployment: 6.1% (6th-lowest)
  • Below poverty line: 13.07% (16th-lowest)

High gas prices are causing pain across Iowa, which has the eighth-highest gas prices in the country. One sector having trouble dealing with these rising prices is public education. Gov. Terry Branstad announced projections of 0% spending growth for all Iowa schools for the next two years. School districts, however, cannot avoid spending more money for fuel. "We're at the mercy of the market whenever we purchase (fuel)," said Bill Good, the chief operations officer of the Des Moines School District, according to Des Moines broadcaster KCCI. That increase at the pump means schools will have to make cuts in other parts of their budgets.

9. Ohio

  • Median income: $45,879 (19th-lowest)
  • Price of regular gasoline: $3.83 (17th-lowest)
  • Unemployment: 9.2% (20th-highest)
  • Below poverty line: 19% (16th-highest)

Gas prices in Ohio are affecting not only individual drivers but also industries that rely heavily on transportation and related services. One local news station noted that farmers, too, are taking a hit. Farmers need fuel to operate their equipment, and the costs of some essential agricultural supplies, such as fertilizer, are affected by oil and gas prices.