What a difference a few months makes: Not so long ago, hand-wringing pundits warned that plunging oil prices portended an ugly global recession from which the U.S. wouldn't escape.
Now that concern seems overblown. The economy continues to grow and add jobs -- 242,000 in February, according to the latest government data.
The truth is that falling energy costs are a net benefit. They may have helped the country dodge an economic bullet, since lower gasoline prices have eased the impact of substantial increases in rents and health care.
If the price of crude oil hadn't fallen to about $30 a barrel from a mid-2014 peak of more than $100 a barrel, the economy might not be in such good shape. "I'm still of the view that lower energy prices are a net positive for the economy," says Stuart Hoffman, chief economist at PNC Financial Services.
In fact, a 2015 report from the Washington D.C.-based think-tank JPMorgan Chase Institute found low fuel prices saved an estimated $700 per household last year.
"At a time of slow wage growth, this boost in discretionary income is significant," the study says.
While consumers are using some of the money to pay down debt and ramp up savings, they're also treating themselves. Using data from 57 million credit- and debit-card holders, the authors found that individuals spent 80% of the savings on non-fuel items like restaurants.
The conclusion is simple: Lower gasoline prices are great for American consumers, and therefore, for the economy.
So what about Big Oil? It's definitely feeling the pain. When the price of crude tumbled, stocks like Exxon Mobil (XOM) BP (BP) and Chevron Corporation (CVX) followed suit. But energy isn't such a large part of the economy that lower profit and job losses there can't be offset by growth elsewhere.