I’ve found that you can tell how the economy is doing by the amount of change you find on the ground. When the economy was really rolling in the late 90s, I would find change on the ground whenever I was out walking. When the economy went bad in 2001, there wasn’t much money to be found on the ground, but there was still some. Then money started showing up more regularly again around 2003 or 2004 . A couple of years ago, it went dry again and is still dry. The economy is showing no signs of recovery based on this indicator. I might find a penny every few weeks now. At the height, I was finding dimes and quarters regularly.
I like to observe the Fast Food Service Index. The worse the economy, the better the service at fast food places, because during good times they really have to scrape the bottom of the barrel for staff.
The doctor’s offices in this area just removed all the magazines from the waiting rooms. I’m betting that within 3 months, magazines that catered to the typical clientele of doctor’s offices are going to plummet. (I’m looking at you, “Parents”, “Newsweek”, and “Good Housekeeping”.)
Also, there is a strip club a couple of miles from our house. I always glance at the parking lot when we drive by. I have noticed that the parking lot doesn’t look as full as it used to.
This is a very good indicator, I believe. I rarely eat fast food any more, but I do go to moderately priced restaurants, and I’ve noticed that the servers are very, very anxious to please. My glass of iced tea or water is promptly refilled, even if it’s still 2/3 full. I haven’t experienced a rude server for quite some time now, and in good times, I will come across a few now and then.
Closely related are the salesclerks at any moderate class business. Again, when times are good, the stores have to hire people who don’t have the best social and business skills, but when times are bad, then only the people who are very competent can find and keep a job.
When I get asked when I first felt like a grownup my answer is when I stopped buying gas $5 or $10 at a time and just filled up on every trip to the gas station. When gas was near $4/gal I got back to “$10 on 4 please”.
My indicator is swag at trade shows. When times are good we get sacks and sacks full of free stuff, including fun stuff; hats and t-shirts and frisbees, and all the vendors give away chocolate, or recently baked cookies, or bottled water with their logo. When things starte to get lean the logos go onto tape measures and pens that we can use in our shops, and not everyone has them. Also the candy vats become bowls of starlight mints and generic hard candy…no chocolate.
This year? The trade show was cancelled.
My husband and I had gone a few times to a restarant called Steak & Ale. The last time we ate there I remaked that they must have been having money troubles because the usual crumbled bleu cheese was not on the salad bar. Within a couple of days they were in the paper as part of a restaurant chain declaring bankruptcy.
Also, the man who cuts my hair says when the economy is bad a lot of his clients stop coloring their hair.