Odd Economic Indicator Round-up: More Jews Moving to Israel, More-Cramped Cubicles, More Smoking and Surfing Porn

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Perhaps they’re not quite as odd as the Hot Waitress Index (a theory in which waitresses get increasingly more attractive as the economy gets worse), but these trends are still rather unusual—yet revealing—indicators of how the economy is faring.
HOMES AND REAL ESTATE
“Nesting is the new flipping.” So reports CNNMoney. It’s an awful time to sell a home. (The market is so bad that one academic is recommending strategic mortgage default as the smartest option for underwater homeowners.) Instead of trying to sell homes, many owners are taking on DIY remodeling projects:

A proportionally bigger share of the home construction dollar — 20% more during the first three quarters of 2009 compared with the same period last year — now goes to home improvements, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

With a “Cash for Caulkers” deal apparently approved, in which the federal government will give a homeowner thousands of dollars in rebates for energy-efficient remodeling jobs, you can expect even more home improvement projects on the way.

Rural residence prices are up. While most of the housing market has tanked, prices for homes and property in rural areas has actually risen over the past couple of years. Why? Apparently because of the influx of young families and singles fleeing hectic (and still more expensive) city life. Per the WSJ:

At United Country Real Estate Inc., one of the country’s largest real estate groups dedicated to rural properties, the average residential sale price climbed 7% last year from 2006 levels, before the recession began. This year, says the firm, based in Kansas City, Mo., prices are expected to be up 2% from 2006. That’s compared to an expected 22% median price decline nationally in existing single-family homes in 2009 from 2006 levels.

McMansions are less McLuxurious and less McEnormous. The 3,500-square-foot home of 2007 has been replaced by the 2,500-square-foot home of the recession era.

The number of North American Jews moving to Israel is up 33%. The economic crisis has been key in spurring on the migration to Israel, where a 7.8% unemployment rate compares well with the 10% rate in the U.S., says the WSJ.


SCENES FROM MAIN STREET AND THE OFFICE

Fewer bank branches appear, while high-tech ATMs flourish. In the recent past, an average of 2,300 brick-and-mortar bank branches opened annually. In the past 12 months, however, only 382 new offices were opened, according to this Boston Globe piece. At the same time, mobile banking options, supped-up bank websites, and fancy ATMs that scan and deposit checks instantly are popping up everywhere. Banks, trying to cut down on expenses and pump up profits in a tough economic climate, don’t have to pay salaries to the ATMs, websites, and smartphone apps, you see.

Your cubicle is getting really crowded. To cut costs, employers are cramming more employees into smaller work stations. Per the WSJ, the size of conference rooms, lounges, offices, and cubicles are all shrinking, and another trend that seems to be rising is for workers to be “floaters”—with no assigned desks whatsoever. At some offices, cubicles that used to average 64 square feet are now down to just 40 square feet.

CARS
Scary: The number of uninsured drivers rises with the unemployment rate. In 2007 in California, when unemployment stood at 5.4%, roughly 18% of drivers didn’t have insurance, per the LA Times. Data is not available for 2009—I’m wondering how they heck they get data for any year, really, since you’d think this isn’t something people would just admit to—but the assumption is that there are more uninsured drivers on the road than there have been in years.

New cars can be cheaper than used cars. And yes, we’re talking about the same model car. How could this be? In an awful economy, car dealers are really, really eager to unload new models. Edmunds explains:

Is buying a used car always cheaper than buying a new vehicle? In most typical economic climates, the answer is a resounding “yes.” However, the 2009 economic climate is anything but typical. In fact, the deals on some new cars are so generous they actually make a new car less expensive than both a one-year-old used and certified pre-owned version of the same model.

The typical monthly payments for certain Acura, Chevy, Honda, and other manufacturer’s cars are actually cheaper when you buy new, and in what seems like the majority of cases, there’s not that much difference when you compare the costs of new vs. one-year old. So why not buy new?

There’s been a noticeable shift in the ratio of small cars to SUVs sold. Smaller cars are not only cheaper to buy, they’re generally cheaper to maintain and gas up. These are all factors that today’s consumers find attractive, for obvious reasons. From the WSJ:

In the first ten months of 2009, small cars made up 19% of the 8.65 million light vehicles sold in the U.S., while pickups and SUVs composed 46%. That’s a shift from just three years ago, when small cars represented 14% of the market while trucks and SUVs held 53%.

SHOPPING AND SPENDING
Credit-card usage is down for the holidays. Last year, 31.5% of holiday shoppers said they were using plastic, compared with 28.3% this year. People are shopping with cash instead—perhaps because their credit cards have been cancelled, perhaps because they’re simply trying to avoid going into debt.

Five-finger discounts are on the rise. Shoplifting incidents are up 6%, and many of the culprits are middle-class folks who, since the recession hit, can no longer afford cosmetics, cell phones, and other non-essentials.

Also on the rise: Smoking (cigs and weed), drinking, surfing porn. Forbes.com reports, in mostly unscientific fashion, that “Bad Habits Boom in a Bad Economy.”

Related:

Ten Odd Economic Indicators: Hot Waitresses, Men’s Underwear, Blacked-Out Football Games, and More
More Economic Indicators: Animal Abandonment, Backyard Gardens, Cancelled EZ Pass

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