The unscientific proof that the U.S. auto industry has recovered

The U.S. auto industry and, by extension, Michigan’s economy are back on their feet again.

It’s official. At least it is by my personal measure.

Now you can monitor official government measures -- yes, the state’s unemployment rate is down. But I prefer QUACK, or Quasi-Arbitrary Commute and Kitchens Index, my own yardstick based on observation. Metro Detroiters can see a sharp change in our environment as the auto industry revives.

  • Stores and malls are crowded. People are actually buying stuff, too.
  • Restaurants are packed. Menu specials are more likely to be multicourse prix fixe deals than “all you can eat.” And on weekend nights, expect to wait for an open table.
  • There are more new cars and fewer junkers held together by duct tape and earnest wishes.
  • And, finally, commutes take more time, and rush hour lasts longer. Compared with 2009, my longish trip to work is about 15 minutes longer.

Now that’s always the surest sign that employment is rising. It’s exhilarating to watch, gratifying to see.

But there is a downside. Driving in Monday morning and hearing a radio report that General Motors is hiring 2,000 new employees in Michigan, my first thought was “wonderful.” My second? “Oh, I hope they’re not all on my route.”

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