Brad Tuttle writes on Time’s Cheapskate Blog:
It’s hard for the lay person to wrap one’s brain around the rise or fall of GDP, new residential sales, money supply, and other traditional economic indicators. What do those numbers really mean? Well, here are some other indicators that do as advertised, truly indicating in simple terms how people are living, what they’re doing to keep themselves busy or make ends meet, and what they’re buying — or not buying — in today’s economic climate.
The signs are everywhere. You know the economy is struggling big time when your underwear is old, the armed forces don’t need recruits, there’s a hot resale market for cemetery plots, you can’t find the local pro football game on TV, your rich neighbors are clipping coupons, and your waitress looks like Megan Fox. That is, if you’re eating out at restaurants at all.
1. Appalachian Trail Hikers. When the going gets tough, the tough take a hike. There’s been a spike in the number of hikers making the long trek—meaning plenty of people have plenty of free time on their hands.
2. Immigrants in the U.S. After rising for decades, the number of foreign-born residents has stalled. Apparently, immigrants just aren’t as attracted to this country as they once were.
3. Men’s Underwear Index. When the economy is stable, the sale of men’s underwear remains flat and strong. But when money is tight, sales drop pretty quickly as men tend to wear their skivvies more times before replacing them. After all, nobody (or not that many people) sees your tightie whities or boxers. In 2009, men’s underwear sales are expected to be down for the first time in years.
4. The Reselling of Cemetery Plots. When people buy one of these, you gotta assume that the thought never entered their heads that one day they’d want to—or have to—sell before putting them to use. People need the money, and suddenly cremation is cool.
5. Pro Football Games Blacked-Out on TV. As the NFL season opened, a dozen teams had not sold out their home games, and with blackout rules that means that viewers at home might not be able to watch those games on TV. They blackout games to encourage people to buy tickets, but fewer folks today are eager to drop big bucks on something that (normally) they can enjoy for free from home. Blackouts are just one reason fans may feel alienated by the NFL.
6. Fewer Babies Born, Fewer Babies Planned. In one survey, 44 percent of women said that they were going to put off having kids or have fewer kids because of the economy.
7. The Toughness of Marine Ads. The Marines have met all of their recruitment goals, as typically occurs when the job market is bad. And so ads on TV are showing the toughest side of being a Marine, with barbed wire and even some dry heaving. Why? Because now they can be picky, and they want to attract the toughest, most highly motivated recruits.
8. Coupon Redemption. The numbers are already up 23 percent so far this year, demonstrating that people are eager to save money. And you know who is more likely to be clipping those coupons? Folks who are well-to-do.
9. Long-Distance Relationships. Because job prospects are so hard to come by, people are more inclined to relocate for a good offer, even if that means leaving a loved one behind.
10. The Hot Waitress Index. Here’s the theory: When times are flush, attractive women in big cities have many opportunities to make money through marketing gigs, modeling, hosting parties, and such. When times are less than flush, those opportunities dry up, and then restaurateurs scoop them up to wait tables—and to attract diners who like being served by hot waitresses.