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May 2013

Off-beat gauge validates rebounding economy

NWREporter May 2013

The economy is definitely doing better, declared Stephen H. Dunphy in a column for Crosscut. Rather than base his conclusion on typical metrics, such as tallies of consumer confidence, stock market numbers or stimulus by the Federal Reserve, he used rentals of portable toilets.

Dunphy, the former business editor at The Seattle Times, dubbed his indicator the "Honey Bucket Index." Figures from Northwest Cascade, Inc.'s Honey Buckets division show rentals of portable toilets peaked in 2008, and declined dramatically in 2010 and 2011. The company reported a 12 percent year-over-year increase in 2012, boosted in part by new construction in Seattle, where nearly four dozen cranes dot the skyline.

Portable toilets are a good indicator of the health of the building and construction industry, an official from Honey Buckets stated. Such rentals have been good at predicting the health of the overall economy, with some timing adjustment.

In his report for Crosscut, Dunphy concluded Honey Buckets demonstrate that you "really don't have to be an economist to understand what is going on in the economy. All you have to do is look around and be aware of changes."

Dunphy also noted an uptick in queries from real estate brokers expressing an interest in his Eastlake neighborhood property. Letters stating they had a "qualifed buyer ready to pay cash" arrived frequently before the Great Recession, but stopped post-bubble. They've now resumed, prompting Dunphy to conclude that's a sure sign the real estate market has returned. 

The news isn't all rosy, Dunphy cautioned, citing figures from the state Employment Security Department. Those figures indicate a shrinking labor force as unemployed job seekers stop looking for work and a weak response to Decemberr's employer survey.

About Crosscut
Crosscut Public Media, founded in 2007, is a 501©3 nonprofit news organizaton. Its mission is to "reveal and strengthen the civic and cultureal life of Seattle and the Pacific Northwest, primarily through a n online daily news magazine.