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The economy as seen on a bus ride down Sunset Blvd.

Kai Ryssdal Oct 5, 2011

The economy as seen on a bus ride down Sunset Blvd.

Kai Ryssdal Oct 5, 2011

Kai Ryssdal: The next mile post telling us where we are in this economy comes our way at 8:30 tomorrow morning — maybe a clue as to when this jobs crisis is going to turn around. The September unemployment report hits the streets, ironically enough, just as people are heading off to work for the day — if they’re lucky enough to have work.

Because two-plus years into this recovery, 1 in 10 people who want a job can’t get a job. It’s even worse out here in California, 12 percent joblessness. But not everybody’s out of work and even if they are, they’ve still got places to go.

So today we’re going to go with them, on the bus, the Sunset Boulevard line to be exact.

Ryssdal: So here we are, the beginning of Sunset Boulevard — runs 26 miles that-a-way. That-a-way’s west, by the way.

Starting downtown, the No. 2 bus travels through the working class neighborhoods of the east side. It goes into Hollywood, the economic engine of Los Angeles, down through Beverly Hills and onto UCLA, all the way out to the beach on the Pacific Ocean. We wanted to go — not so much a snapshot, really — more of a slice of the changing economy, a look at what’s working and what needs to work better so that more people can work.

Ryssdal: So you look out the window and what do you see, you see Blessed Sacrament School. You see Blessed Sacrament Church, dentists and cleaners and Pizza Huts.

Darling Sianez boards the 2 bus in Echo Park, just west of downtown. Breakfast is still in her hands. It’s a quick bite and a large coffee from McDonald’s.

Ryssdal: What do you do?

Darling Sianez: I’m an administrative assistant for UCLA.

Ryssdal: Oh excellent. So you’re riding the bus all the way out there?

Sianez: I do.

That’s 15 miles out Sunset to campus. Two hours each way every day for $36,000 a year. She’s a single mom, two teenagers.

Sianez: Do I live check to check? Yeah, I do.

Ryssdal: How long has it been like that?

Sianez: Since I had my kids, since I started working.

Ryssdal: Sixteen years it’s been like that, check to check?

Sianez: Pretty much, mmhm.

Ryssdal: Aren’t you tired?

Sianez: I’m tired. I want to go back to school, I want to make more money, but just not possible right now.

Maxwell Fleming hops on the bus on a stretch of Sunset that runs through an area called Silver Lake. He’s a young guy, 30-ish, burly with a big bushy beard and a resume not uncommon in this neighborhood of hipsters and artists.

Ryssdal: What do you do?

Maxwell Fleming: I’m a writer and an illustrator.

Ryssdal: Tell me more.

Fleming: Well, right now I’m trying to illustrate children’s book, I write articles for an online website and I’m working on a screenplay.

Ryssdal: So it seems like this is a great example of what a lot of economists call the “gig economy.” You’re moving from gig to gig to gig.

Fleming: Yeah, the ultimate freelance journey. But as soon as I get burnt out in the rat race, I’m gonna pack my luggage and move on.

Bus announcement: Stop requested. Please use rear exit.

Ryssdal: Hollywood Center Motel, where the neon is clearly broken, looks like Norman Bates’ house. That’s horrifying.

The No. 2 bus — with us on it — pulls up to the corner of Sunset and Vine. It’s practically the heart of Hollywood — the town, that is. But Hollywood, the industry, is global like so many other industries. And like so many of the economic problems facing the world.

Ryssdal: Amoeba Music, CNN, the ArcLight Theater, Kim Kardashian on the billboard advertising Midori. Go figure that out.

Silverware sounds

Ryssdal: So here’s what we did, it’s lunchtime, we’re hungry, we got off the bus. We’re at The Waffle in Hollywood, right on Sunset, to talk about Hollywood.

John Blank: Hollywood is basically growing with the growth of the world economy, not with the growth of the U.S. economy.

That’s John Blank. He works for the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation. He’s an economist there. He says the entertainment industry’s doing all right. The world wants more American movies and television. They want our technology and — believe it or not — they want other things that we make as well. Because in places like China and India economies are still growing. Blank figures that could mean more jobs for Americans. Businesses, he says, in developing countries have lots of money. And they want to spend it here.

Blank: There’s this company called Rhapsody in Korea. They make Korean sourced and manufactured apparel in Korea. But now they want to get made-in-California apparel shipped to Korea. So there you see that there could come jobs back in Los Angeles and restore that part of the economy.

New jobs, some day. A turning point even, but only for the right kinds of workers.

Blank: It’s 4.5 percent unemployment for college-educated people. It’s 16 percent unemployment if you do not have access to a college education. No education, no writing skills, no math skills, no ability to do any of the salaried jobs that are in the service economy.

A college education is one way to break into a global workforce. It’s not a guaranteed job, but there’s a whole slew of wanna-be workers giving it a go just down Sunset Boulevard at UCLA.

Ryssdal: So here we are, corner of Hilgard and Westholme. There’s the Gamma Phi Beta house over there, UCLA sweatshirts everywhere. Today the first day of school?

It’s the first full week of classes at UCLA anyway. But English major Kerryn McDonough’s already thinking about what comes next.

Kerryn McDonough: I’m 21, a senior at UCLA.

Ryssdal: And you’re graduating?

McDonough: Yes.

Ryssdal: So you’re screwed?

McDonough: Absolutely.

There’s always been a balance between doing what’s practical and following your dream. But in a state with 12 percent unemployment, perhaps the scales should be tipped a bit toward the practical?

Ryssdal: So three-and-a-half years ago, when you started at UCLA, what were you thinking?

McDonough: I mean I feel like they kind of counsel you into do what you like, do what you love, if you enjoy it, you’re going to be good at it. And so I just picked English and then later on realized that maybe that wasn’t the best choice.

Ryssdal: So would you basically take any job?

McDonough: Yes, I would. Absolutely.

Ryssdal: Give us your name, would you?

Lindsey Sharpe: Lindsey Sharpe.

Lindsey Sharpe, also a senior, also looking for a job. Not as nervous, though, as our english major because she’s an engineer.

Sharpe: I don’t face the same degree of uncertainty as a lot of my peers do.

Ryssdal: Do you feel bad that you basically, you’ve got a plan and everyone else is… Ahh!

Sharpe: It can be interesting at times, but I had several friends — computer science majors in particular — they were getting offered $35 an hour as summer interns before they even had their bachelor’s degree.

So if your dream career wasn’t practical, if you didn’t make the right choice the first time around, maybe it’s time to switch gears to find a way to make it in this economy.

After it leaves UCLA, the 2 bus runs through some of the richest neighborhoods in town — places like Westwood, Brentwood, and Pacific Palisades. But you get past those neighborhoods, down at the end of the line and you’re here — where Sunset Boulevard hits the ocean. It’s a couple of businesses, a seafood restaurant, a grocery store, and then the beach. And it occurs to me here that the ocean’s not a bad metaphor.

Here you go: There are jobs coming to this economy. The hard part is knowing when that tide’s gonna turn.

Ryssdal: So that’s Los Angeles and a slice of California. Find out where your state stacks up with an interactive map — explore and compare the employment picture in your state. Check out the map here.

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