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Here's a shocking statistic: The United States has fewer cars per capita than Italy, Germany, France, Spain, Belgium, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and 16 other countries. Even more dramatic is one of the potential causes: A declining American middle class.

According to an Atlantic report on a new study conduct by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, we're ranked just 25th in the world in per-person car ownership. The actual number stands at 439 cars per 1,000 Americans. Further, the U.S. is an outlier when you compare the number of vehicles per capita to household consumption. While we have one of the highest rates of household spending, car buying is in decline here. It is this disparity that points to the widening income gap in the U.S. as a potential cause of our low rate of car ownership. Indeed, car ownership rates track with the size of a nation's middle class, according to the report.

To add insult to injury, despite our low rates of car ownership, Americans still consume roughly twice as much energy as most Europeans.

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