Garbometer, The

Is the economy slowing? If you listen to Alan Greenspan or watch the "so called" leading economic indicators, you might think so. But if you listen to a garbageman, like Steve Powell from Hughes Garbage Service in Acworth, Ga., then you might get another view.

With more than 41 years in the hauling business, Powell says he can recognize when the economy is declining. But he notes in a recent article in The Atlanta Constitution that the amount of garbage on his curbside routes hasn't decreased - a sure sign that consumer spending hasn't slowed.

This seat-of-the-truck analysis runs contrary to the latest economic news released in late January. One report from a private research group noted a decline in consumer confidence in January - the lowest rating in four years. Not to be outdoomed, the federal government released its analysis of fourth quarter 2000 gross domestic product growth - the slowest in five years.

Certainly neither report could be categorized as good news, but think back four or five years ago. I remember 1996 and 1997 as being smack in the middle of an economic boom. Don't forget that a bad economy helped the Democrats win the White House in 1992, and good one kept them there four years later in 1996.

Consequently, comparing today's pulse to the most prosperous economy in decades isn't the same as being compared to the recessions of the late '80s and early '90s.

You don't need to be an economist to figure this out. You just need a memory.

This also might explain why Powell's loads aren't any lighter. Certainly, people haven't been cleaning out their basements and closets in the dead of winter. In fact, another recent report showed consumer buying habits much higher in January than had been predicted. And, of course, with consumption comes waste at the curb.

Maybe we should suggest to Mr. Greenspan that he consult another leading economic indicator - the solid waste industry. Who is in a better position to know if consumer spending has increased than the residential waste hauler? And, if you want to determine if construction is down, consider asking the C&D waste hauler.

Our industry is in a prime position to judge society on so many levels, including its economic vitality.

And you thought we just picked up the trash.