One of the more surprising aspects of our continuing depression has been that whilst our economy has stagnated (I mean in Britain) there hasn’t been as much unemployment as expected. For a while I’ve reckoned I knew why as a lot of people I know seem to have gone self-employed as a last resort. And whilst not unemployed they just aren’t working very much. Of course this is anecdotal – but recently studies have started to appear that suggest that people are indeed working fewer hours than they would like. Unfortunately it appears to be the low paid “flexible” workers who are struggling most to find the hours to support themselves.
Then today I read an intriguing story in the FT about big US companies who are monitoring peoples spending habits:
“We see a pronounced difference between how people are shopping today and before the recession,” the executive explained. “Consumers are living pay check by pay check, and they tend to spend accordingly. Then you have 50 million people on food stamps and that has cycles too. So for our business it has become critical to understand the cycle – when pay [and benefit] checks are arriving.”
It strikes me that companies like Tesco, Amazon and especially Wonga here in the UK probably have better Big Data explaining the state of our nation than the ONS.