RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

There's some good news about the economy. April retail sales are better than expected. The stock market has been rallying. At least those are some of the official numbers. The rest of us have our own, personal economic indicators. Our Planet Money team has been tracking those as well. Caitlin Kenney reports.

CAITLIN KENNEY: Five days - that was Daniel Cross's economic indicator. He designs electronic circuits in Florida. And in January, he was told he would have to take five days off unpaid, a furlough. A furlough, like those other economic indicators, can be hard to interpret. But Cross still had his job, and it was a chance to do something he'd been putting off.

Mr. DANIEL CROSS (Electronic circuit designer): I'm in the middle of a home-renovation project. We had a plumbing disaster, so this will give me an opportunity to finish that up.

KENNEY: That call was in January. We checked back in with Cross this spring. He still had his job, but his office had become something like a Dilbert cartoon.

Mr. CROSS: Well, the rumor is that our site is going to be closed.

KENNEY: So what's the atmosphere in the office like right now?

Mr. CROSS: Well, I actually have a - email. Could I read you an email we got yesterday?

KENNEY: Yeah, sure.

Mr. CROSS: All right. The topic was professionalism.

All, there is no doubt that we are all living in an uncertain and difficult time, but we can not fall into nonprofessional behaviors, and there are things that cannot be tolerated on company property. For example, marker inscriptions in the restroom about your career moving into smelly places, cardboard resumes in your cube saying will design circuits for food, sarcastic white board messages, etc.

KENNEY: And then Cross's indicator went from five furlough days to infinity. The business closed up shop, and Cross is now out of a job, like a lot of people in Florida.

Mandy Dalton found her personal indicator in a newspaper story about the bankruptcy of General Growth Properties, the second-largest mall owner in the country. The paper said General Growth owed billions of dollars to huge banks. But it turns out General Growth owed her money as well. She's not a bank. She's a clown.

Ms. MANDY DALTON (Clown): I make kids laugh. I fall on my butt for a living. It is great.

KENNEY: Dalton did a family fun day at a mall near Baltimore. Now, if she wants to get paid, she'll have to wait in a long line.

Ms. DALTON: Frankly, I only charged them $200 for the gig. I have to weigh, do I want to spend the money that it's going to take me to go up to New York to sit in on the creditors meeting where other people are going to be there for, you know - if not millions, certainly in the hundreds of thousands of dollars looking for payment. And I'm supposed to go to the judge and say, I want my $200?

KENNEY: Two hundred dollars, Mandy Dalton's indicator, is a lot of money for her. Clowning comes with what economists call fixed costs.

Ms. DALTON: The clown shoes, man, clown shoes, they're expensive. Clown shoes'll run you about 200, 300 bucks a pair, easy.

KENNEY: Dalton says her business is off 87 percent for the first quarter. So Tim Geithner, Ben Bernanke, if you want to know if your plans are working, the clowning perspective is - maybe.

Dalton says she's gotten calls about performing at fundraisers, but she's not sure if that means the places are healthy, or they're in trouble and really need to raise money.

Caitlin Kenney, NPR News.

MONTAGNE: And you can discover other personal economic indicators on our Planet Money blog, npr.org/money.

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