Everyday Economic Indicators

In today’s New York Times, accompanying an article on economic forecasts, there’s a wonderful graphic offering up a handful of interesting and insightful workaday economic indicators — anecdotal ways to gauge the state of the economy. Among them:

  • Wide price differences for gas indicate that price sensitivity is less important than convenience
  • Thickness of the local paper on Thanksgiving — does the number of separate ad inserts help predict a good year for retailers?
  • “No Vacancy” signs mean that prices are rising and that business-to-business transactions are trumping business-to-consumer ransactions
  • Restaurant service: If it’s good, the unemployment rate is high. If it’s bad, high-quality help is harder to come by
  • Pawn shop wrenches: In rust-belt locations, check pawn shop windows for tools — if there are a lot of them, it means that tradesmen are having a rough time
  • Cost of a snow-free driveway: If the service provider uses a snowblower, it means gas prices are high. What does it mean if they use a shovel?
  • “For Sale” signs can indicate how strong the real estate market is — particularly if prices are being lowered or properties remain on the market for a long time
  • Heavy traffic is worse during rush hour when the economy is good
  • Rising gas prices can obviously impact the travel and tourism segments of the economy

What back-of-envelope economic indicators do you use?