Friday, January 15, 2010

churchmouse indicator

Each podcast episode of the (highly recommended) NPR Planet Money podcast starts out with a Planet Money Indicator, an isolated numerical datapoint.

For example, the most recent indicator went like this: "85,000. This is the net number of jobs the economy lost in Dec 2009." They briefly put the indicator in context then start the real podcast.

As I was putting away the two small bags of carefully selected, heavily couponed and compared groceries I bought today I noticed my own indicator, hereafter known as a churchmouse indicator. We have one of the dispensers that holds plastic grocery bags so you can reuse them around the house. For the several years we've owned it it's been so crammed full that we've recycled the bags that would not fit. There are holes on the side of the dispenser that let you pull bags out. There are 8 holes top to bottom. In the past it was full up beyond all eight holes. For the past few months the dispenser fill level has been falling and is now at 1.5 holes. This suggests that the stuff we buy in plastic grocery bags has fallen about 80%.

That sounds about right. That's analagous to the decline in my income in 2009 compared to 2008. I've bet my mortgage (and marital bliss) on my confidence that I can get a teaching job, be an effective teacher, and return to a semi-normal income. So far that confidence has not been justified but we're not yet starving. Perhaps this is The Universe teaching me how to be more in tune with the kids whose families are, financially, treading water.

Further Reading: PM's iPod index and Big Mac index.

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