The pocket economy

(File photo: Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images)

Pointyheads, professors and experts are great for the big picture, but sometimes the truth is best uncovered by the worker bees among us. The economy lives primarily in your pocket.

That point was reinforced today when MPR’s Midmorning was interviewing James Hamilton, a professor of economics at the University of California San Diego, and Mark Zandi, the chief economist at Moody’s about the role of the Federal Reserve. The Fed this afternoon lowered the federal funds rate, a sign that the economy is tanking.

During the show about the economy, however, the most illustrative points were delivered by two callers.

“I work for… UPS package and I’ve noticed on the route over the last six weeks, it’s been … the economy has slowed down. I’ve been in the business for 20 years and you can tell how the economy is going, whether it’s hot, cold, you know. And it’s really been slow,” said Greg.

If people aren’t shipping, people aren’t buying.

But apparently, they’re not tipping either, which provides another glimpse into how the economy is working on Main Street.

Jenny in Minneapolis reported that…

“I’m a server in a really high-end Twin Cities restaurant and what I’ve noticed is our business levels are about 50 percent of what they were last year. Holiday season is really big at the place I work. And also, on top of that, the guests that do come in to our establishment are leaving roughly about 5 to 7 percent less in gratuity which is really, really strange for this establishment.”

And not only are they not tipping, they’re not nipping and tucking either.

Anecdotal evidence, of course, is fraught with the possibility of an incomplete picture. Yesterday I asked a Salvation Army bell-ringer how donations were on Monday. “Really great,” she said.

Your assignment: Survey those who take your money today on business. And, like Greg and Jenny, report your anecdotes here.

  • Sounds like a good assignment to me. Will get back to you!

  • Well Bob, here’s more of the incomplete picture. This is what I found out from a small restaurant owner last night…

    The cold weather cut hard into neighborhood foot traffic, and the last few weeks of general and more pervasive inactivity caused him to cut some of his employee’s shifts. Breakfasts on the weekend continue to do a good traffic, so people must feel like they can enjoy time during that window.

    He didn’t give me the nod to release his name 🙁 He doesn’t seem to do much take out, but in retrospect I should have asked him about that. My inexpert assessment was the focus seems to be on shopping, not experiences.

    But shopping may not be a good indicator either. When talking about your “assignment” with a gal on the bus, she mentioned that the last three times she’s been to the St. Paul Super-duper-Target on University Ave (three visits since Thanksgiving…she may need an intervention) it is hopping, but her weekday stop at the regular-old-Target on Lake St. (granted, one trip) was strangely quiet. As in, “Cashiers were standing at the end of their stations waving people into line.” I frequent that Target and I couldn’t believe it, the place is usually a total tangle of carts and people.