The stock market is on a roll and home prices are steadily climbing, but how wealthy Americans feel is often determined by how much they pay at the pump.

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The national average price of gasoline is $3.69 per gallon and predicted to creep higher. It seems that $4 a gallon is a psychological barrier for many consumers. Experts say the national average will hit that mark by May.

What will that mean for the economy as a whole? Will consumers cutback on eating out or taking that family trip this summer?

The United States is increasing its oil production faster than ever, and American drivers are guzzling less gas. So is the high price of gasoline a signal that markets aren't working properly?

Not at all, experts say. The laws of supply and demand are working, just not in the way U.S. drivers want them to.

U.S. drivers are competing with drivers worldwide for every gallon. As the developing economies of Asia and Latin America expand, their energy consumption is rising, which puts pressure on fuel supplies and prices everywhere else.

The United States still consumes more oil than any other country, but demand is weak and imports are falling. That leaves China, which overtook the United States late last year as the world's largest oil importer, as the biggest influence on global demand for fuels. China's consumption has risen 28 percent in five years.

(Photo attributed to Flickr member @MinaleTattersfieldRoadsideRetail via the Creative Commons license.)