Michael Mack at his shop.
Michael Mack at his shop. - 
Listen To The Story

We measure the health of the American economy all kinds of ways: New housing starts, GDP, retail and unemployment.

Also? Pawn shops.

Cash America -- the biggest pawn shop company in the country -- said today profits probably won't be as good as everybody's expecting. The firm blames mostly weaker demand for both pawn and consumer loans. That lower demand could also mean that Americans are starting to feel a bit more financially stable.

Michael Mack is the owner of Max Pawn in Las Vegas. He says that the conventional wisdom that pawn shops doing well means a bad economy isn't necessarily true.

"Pawn shops do well in most every economy," he argues. "We loan more money in the downturn; we sell more merchandise in the upside. So we try to hedge ourself both ways."

The last few years, demand for loans at pawn shops has been higher -- even for loans in the tens of thousands of dollar range. At his shop, he's seen cars, airplanes, and other seemingly weird items get put up.

"The demand for loans is still there," he adds.

The news the country's biggest pawn broker is hurting, explains Mack, isn't just a sign that the economy is getting better.

"A lot of [pawn shops] have depended on that gold rush, where people were selling gold off at a high price. Of course, gold's taken a big dip this year," Mack points out. "That easy business of taking gold, refining it, making money, making a profit margin, is over."

“I think the best compliment I can give is not to say how much your programs have taught me (a ton), but how much Marketplace has motivated me to go out and teach myself.” – Michael in Arlington, VA

As a nonprofit news organization, what matters to us is the same thing that matters to you: being a source for trustworthy, independent news that makes people smarter about business and the economy. So if Marketplace has helped you understand the economy better, make more informed financial decisions or just encouraged you to think differently, we’re asking you to give a little something back.

Become a Marketplace Investor today – in whatever amount is right for you – and keep public service journalism strong. We’re grateful for your support.

Follow Kai Ryssdal at @kairyssdal