Let's see. We can count the tidal wave of foreclosures. Mounting credit card debt. Teetering banks. Rising joblessness. A stalled housing market. Massive losses by automobile manufacturers. Declining advertising revenues for TV and newspapers. The faltering Dow-Jones Index. The flood of bankruptcy filings.
But savvy economists, those who missed out on a MBA from Wharton, have discovered a new measure of hard times, a grass root barometer, just a phone call away. Just call 1-866-471-TIPS.
Tough times apparently can be charted by the volume of tips phoned into Crimestoppers. Crime pays. But not for the criminal.
The New York Times reported that tips in return for cash rewards from $50 for a petty crime to $50,000 for a homicide have risen 25 percent in cities like Detroit and Omaha, up 44 percent in
San Antonio, up 30 percent in Southwest Florida. A spokesman for the Lee County Sheriff's Office explained, "People are just hurting. They're turning in neighbors and kin folk."
Miami-Dade Crimestoppers President Jack Sullivan figured the rise was less dramatic in South Florida. His calls are up about 12 percent. "Not a significant increase," he told me.
But Miami, all along, has suffered the poorest population of any major city. For many neighborhoods, times were already tough. And Crimestoppers has been long established. (Sullivan points out that 30 percent of the tipsters don't collect rewards. They're just good citizens.) When it comes to the Crimestoppers Economic Index, maybe calls in Miami area function better as a long range predictor of tough times coming.