Everybody has their own sense about how the economy is working. I admit to being confused about the many talking head interpretations I hear on the news. The crazy up and down roller coaster stock market defies any logic I can apply. I have yet to figure out why the news of a drop in unemployment can actually cause the stock market to drop. As a result, I gauge the health of the economy on three local indices that I can understand and which I collectively refer to as The Parking Lot Index. The Index includes the following:
- How many pick-up trucks are in the Wawa parking lot at 6:00am
- How many cars are in the parking lot at the Olive Garden on Rte 1
- How long it takes me to find a parking space in the long-term parking lot at the Philadelphia International Airport.
Lately at the Wawa near me you can find almost any flavor of pick-up or van in the parking lot early in the morning. Many are equipped with ladder racks and tool boxes with their cargo beds jammed with anything from welding gear to painting supplies. The owners of these vehicles line up inside to purchase their morning coffee and order the subs that will be packed into their lunch coolers for later in the day. When Wawa is busy at this time of the day, I judge it to be a good sign – things must be getting built, repaired or remodeled to mobilize so many trades at the beginning of the work day.
In my normal wanderings around town, I frequently pass the Olive Garden located with its kindred spirit The Red Lobster on Rte 1. These corporate cousins share a parking lot and as you might expect are typically very busy on Friday and Saturday nights judging by the full parking lot and the lines of patrons waiting outside hoping that the vibrating/flashing hockey puck that the hostess gave them would activate soon. But I expect Fridays and Saturdays to be busy. What I prefer to gauge the economy on is how full the parking lot is on Wednesday nights. By this measure, things look pretty good so far. Pass the breadsticks, please.
Some of my work requires travel which means trips to the airport several times a year – thankfully less than earlier in my career. I generally park in the long term parking lot. Shuttle buses serve the lot transporting excited pre-vacationers to the airport and road-weary business people back. I count myself among the latter. There are many of us who bless the day when remote key fobs finally became standard issue allowing us to stop our aimless wanderings and find our cars in forgotten spaces in the vast sea of multi-colored painted steel. I’ve noted that when I eventually find my car again, it’s often in Section M, which is near the end of the line for the returning shuttle bus. This means that many of the sections up to this point were filled when I took my outbound trip. I take this too as a sign of economic health based on this simple formula; full parking lot = people on planes = business and vacations = healthy economy. I’ve parked in Section M a lot this year.
Although in a general sense my simple indicators tell me that our economy has picked up, it doesn’t help to define what we actually do. To know this, I must turn to the government. Every 10 years the federal government, in the form of the Census Bureau at the Department of Commerce, conducts a census which compiles a lot of information about the general population and our civil and commercial conditions. In the interval between, surveys are taken in communities across the U.S. to provide a clearer picture of our community conditions. Despite its name, Levittown is not a town at all because it is spread out over four different municipalities. However, it is a community and the Census Bureau defines it as a Census Data Place (CDP) in order to compile community based statistics. The most recent summary available from the American Community Survey (ACS) includes some information about our work lives.
How We Get To Work [Workers 16 yrs and older; Levittown PA (CDP)]
As shown in Table 1, most of us commute to work – only 1.4% work at home. By far the largest mode of transportation for commuters (86.5%) is to drive alone in a car, truck or van. Carpooling, the next highest commuting method, is a distant 8.5%. The average commute time is given as 22.5 minutes – 1 way. I am almost certain that the estimate doesn’t include the commute down Rte 95 S into Philly through 3 (yes 3 ) construction zones. At 22.5 minutes, I would hardly have the time to notice 10 commuters on cell phones, 2 putting on make-up, at least half a dozen zig-zagging across all lanes of traffic and one semi who wanted his half out of the middle. Only 22.5 minutes would be – well kind of nice.
Table 1: Commuting To Work
|Commuting Method of Transportation||Percent|
|Car, truck, or van — drove alone||86.5%|
|Car, truck, or van — carpooled||8.5%|
|Public transportation (excluding taxicab)||2.1%|
|Worked at home||1.4%|
Our Occupations [Civilian Workers 16 yrs and older; Levittown PA (CDP)]
The survey estimates lump us into 5 broad categories as shown in Table 2. The largest percentage (31.9%) is Sales and Office occupations with a close second (27.2%) in Management, Business, Science and the Arts. The lowest percentage (10.9%) is in the category of Natural Resources, Construction and Maintenance which seems at odds with my informal Wawa survey. I suspect that many of the pick-up truck and van owners I see at Wawa are also independent contractors and thus also business men and women that would also fit into the earlier categories.
Table 2: Occupational Categories
|Management, business, science, and arts occupations||27.2%|
|Sales and office occupations||31.9%|
|Natural resources, construction, and maintenance occupations||10.9%|
|Production, transportation, and material moving occupations||14.3%|
Industries We Work For [Civilian Workers 16 yrs and older; Levittown PA (CDP)]
Within the above occupational categories we work in a spectrum of industries as shown in Table 3. The largest category at 20.7% is Educational Services, Health Care and Social Assistance with the second category at 16.8% for the Retail Trade. Unsurprisingly, the lowest category is for Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing, Hunting and Mining – there’s not much of that to be found in and around Levittown. What is telling about this listing is that only 9.6% are employed in manufacturing industries. In a community built to house many of those who worked at U.S. Steel, American Bridge, PATAPAR, Roebling Steel, and 3M among others, this is a surprisingly low number. The world really has been turned on its head.
Table 3: Industrial Categories
|Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, and mining||0.3%|
|Transportation and warehousing, and utilities||7.2%|
|Finance and insurance, and real estate and rental and leasing||7.4%|
|Professional, scientific, and management, and administrative and waste management services||10.1%|
|Educational services, and health care and social assistance||20.7%|
|Arts, entertainment, and recreation, and accommodation and food services||7.6%|
|Other services, except public administration||4.0%|
 Due to rounding errors, totals may not add to 100%.
This article was previously published in the Levittown Leader – current version reflects changes in format and structure with minor edits.