How's the economy doing? Still pretty sluggish, according to moms and dads.

Economists can analyze their housing starts, manufacturing activity reports, and retail sales data. But it seems to me those numbers don't get at the sense, deep in the guts of most parents, of how the U.S. economy is really doing.

So I'm putting together a Parents' Index of Leading Economic Indicators. Take a group of parents from around the country, between the ages of 30 and 50, and ask them to rate the economy on a scale of 1 (ugh, worst in my lifetime) to 10 (humming along nicely). Average it out, and see what we have. Pretty complex math, right?

Here are some of the variables, good and bad, that are going into the number each parent reports to the PI:

• Number of people in our families, extended families or circle of friends out of work a year or more
• Conversations overheard in K-Mart and Kohl's about unemployment
• Number of kids in elementary school classes who moved away, mid-school year, because of a parent's employment situation (five in the case of one 24-student third grade I know)
• the degree of desperation in the appeals from the charities we give to
• number of moms we know who have abandoned direct sales, like Avon and Tastefully Simple, because no one has any money to buy their stuff anymore
• Still-long lines at Wegmans for fancy meats and cheeses and \$21.99 per pound yellow fin tuna steak
• Number of credit card offers and catalogs in our mailboxes
• Vacancies in downtown shopping areas coupled with outdoor signs that read, "Yes, we're open!"
• Kids' attendance at various high-priced sports camps, art and music lessons.
The score for July 1, 2011 is a 4.2. We'll see where that goes in the next quarter. And if you're a parent and you'd like to include your feedback in the index, please drop me an e-mail using the contact form above. Include your age, town, state and the number of kids you have. The more people I poll, the more accurate the PI becomes. Even I don't need an economist to tell me that.
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