The indicator I prefer is the Hot Waitress Index: The hotter the waitresses, the weaker the economy. In flush times, there is a robust market for hotness. Selling everything from condos to premium vodka is enhanced by proximity to pretty young people (of both sexes) who get paid for providing this service. That leaves more-punishing work, like waiting tables, to those with less striking genetic gifts. But not anymore.
The same article also mentions the Overeducated Cabbie Index, the Squeegee Man Apparition Index, and the Speed at Which Contractors Return Calls Index.
Update: A possible related metric: the quality of street musicians.
Update: Yet another economic indicator: men’s underwear.
“It’s a prolonged purchase,” said Marshal Cohen, senior analyst with the consumer research firm NPD Group. “It’s like trying to drive your car an extra 10,000 miles.”