Everyday Life Can Be an Economic Indicator

(By Tim Grajek For The Washington Post)
By Candice Lee Jones
Kiplinger's Personal Finance
Sunday, July 12, 2009

Everyone is scrambling to get their fingers on the pulse of the economy. When will it turn around? Have we seen the worst? The answers may not be as elusive as you might think. You'll find clues in everyday life to help determine where the economy really stands:

Packed Theaters

Box-office sales have increased in all of the past five recession years. According to the National Association of Theatre Owners, the number of movie tickets sold in the first quarter of 2009 increased more than 9 percent from last year. The average ticket price in 2008 was $7.18. So when the lines get shorter and ticket prices higher, will happy times be here again?

More First Dates

Misery loves company, eh? Online dating service Match.com notices a pattern in its site activity during tough times. The fourth quarter of 2008 was its busiest in seven years. Match had a similar surge in late 2001, right after 9/11. The company thinks people are looking for someone with whom they can forget about money troubles -- or share the pain.

Romance Novels Are Hot

Bury your sorrows in book? That's what Harlequin, the romance-novel publisher, says is happening. In 2008, Harlequin's sales were up 32 percent from 2007, and they are on the rise this year. Harlequin saw a similar sales increase during the recession of the early '90s. So if these books start piling up on the discount table, with those mistimed guides to real estate riches, better news might be on the way.

Goopy Eyelashes

You've got that recession look. Total eye-makeup sales were up 8.5 percent in the one-year period that ended March 22. In that period, more than $260 million was spent on eye makeup. Eyeliner was up 9 percent and mascara 13 percent, the industry says.

The leading lipstick indicator -- a trend that lipstick sales rise in downturns as consumers go for inexpensive luxuries -- is not holding up. Lipstick sales are down 11 percent.

More Green Thumbs

The National Gardening Association finds 19 percent more households will grow their own fruit, berries, vegetables and herbs this year than in 2008. That makes 43 million gardeners in the United States this year; 54 percent say they are motivated by the prospect of saving money on groceries.

Dry Cleaning Pickups Are Down

The International Drycleaning and Laundry Institute says because of the poor economy, customers are visiting less frequently and leaving clothes longer. Customers who once came weekly now visit every two weeks, monthly customers visit bimonthly, and some people delay their pickups even longer to avoid the bill.

More Mosquito Bites

In Maricopa County, Ariz., huge numbers of foreclosed or abandoned homes have vacant swimming pools and unattended ponds. The stagnant waters, or green pools, are a hotbed for mosquito breeding, authorities say. Crews have treated more than 4,000 green pools in 2009. During the same period in 2007, before metropolitan Phoenix's housing market collapsed, they treated 2,500.

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