Last Updated Feb 17, 2011 6:14 PM EST
The folks at Kiplinger.com rightly note that economists follow arcane data -- things like housing starts and producer prices -- to figure out what people like us are doing with our money. We hold the keys to the overall economy because consumer spending accounts for about two-thirds of economic growth.
So why use the dangerously dull data when there are equally telling economic indicators that we all can understand and relate to? Because it takes some imagination to ferret out the signs that can truly tell an economic turn. But that's just what Kiplinger did this week, pulling a list of 10 intuitive -- but somewhat off-the-wall -- economic signals. Their conclusion: All 10 of their off-kilter economic indicators -- ranging from boxes to boxers -- are pointing in the right direction.
Like what? Underwear sales.
In a good economy, the sale of men's underwear is as consistent as a clock. But run into economic shoals and men think: "Who's going see these anyway?" The sale of boxers and briefs fell 2.5% when the economy hit the skids in 2009. Now sales have begun to stabilize, though like the unemployment rate, they're not where they should be.
And then there's the Ice Cream Index.
People not only think twice before going out to eat when the economy is rotten, they order less food -- skipping side-dishes, appetizers and desserts. The National Restaurant Association now reports that dessert sales are rising. You've heard the term "fat and happy?"
It's not something you think much about, but when you buy things, they come in packages. Big packages; little packages -- doesn't matter. If you're going to sell something, somebody's gotta make the box. Even if what you're buying isn't packed in packages at the store, there's a good chance that some sales clerk pulled whatever you're buying out of a box in the back room. The more things we buy, the more boxes somebody needs to make. Box sales are bullish.
The only thing that dropped faster than the stock market in 2008 and 2009 was the number of couples filing for divorce. Let's face it, divorce is expensive. And if you can't afford to support one household, how are you going to support two? Now divorce lawyers say filings have gone into overdrive, partly (they think) as the result of pent-up demand/acrimony.
Kiplinger's other weird signs of economic health range from Starbuck's sales to search engines. You can find the whole list here.
Do you have a homespun measure of economic health or malaise? If so, what is it and how's it doing?