Fear of the Unknown

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This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

No one needs the new poverty numbers to know there's a lot of anxiety in the land.

But the image is pretty graphic: the highest poverty rate in almost three decades. Forty-six million Americans below the official poverty line.

An even more graphic face was put on the story last week when the New York Times reported on the death of a homeless man on the streets of Hollywood.

The paper's bureau chief in Los Angeles, a veteran politics writer named Adam Nagourney, first wrote about Lewis Brown last spring.

Brown was a basketball star from Compton who had played for the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. Now 56, he suffered from the demons that often lead to the streets.

For Brown that street was Vine, around Santa Monica Boulevard. The grittier end of Hollywood.

If you ever saw Brown, you'd probably remember him. He was 6'11" and weighed 300 pounds.

After Nagourney's story in May, Brown scraped together the cash to apply for a state ID card so he could travel. He wanted to reconnect with a sister who thought he was dead.

But Brown collapsed on the sidewalk last week, clutching at his chest.

His shopping cart from Staples held a pair of sneakers, a blanket, and a laminated copy of Nagourney's story from May.

Brown didn't die because of the economy. He had other serious issues.

But stories like his, the kind with an angle that gets media attention, underline that more people all the time live close to the edge.

Recovery from the recession may be occurring, but the pace is best called sluggish.

Enough markers are sliding downward again that a recent survey of economists by the Wall Street Journal concluded there's a 1 in 3 chance of a new recession kicking in before the old one ever really finished.

Home foreclosures: going back up again. That doesn't count the new ex-homeowners who walk way and cut a deal with the bank for a short sale.

You take a hit on your credit score. Become a renter again. But you avoid financial collapse.

LA's unemployment rate: also going back up.

It's at 12.5 percent now. And that's the rosiest possible view. It doesn't count all the fathers and mothers who've quit looking for work. The new college grads who don't see a future.

Or the people in what used to be called the prime earning years – their 50s – whose night fears that they may never again hold a regular job are starting to look like cards that life has dealt.

Technology is eliminating more jobs than it's creating. One small example is the restaurant in Torrance that installed iPads at tables so that diners can place their own orders without the need for an actual live servers.

Even the health care industry has stopped adding workers.

The economy can't recover if businesses don't hire. It's problem that the Democrats don't have the answer for, and the Republicans continue to see as an ideological opportunity.

Then there's the real world, where people are losing their homes and going without prescription drugs.

Or living and dying like Lewis Brown.

For KCRW, this has been Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.