Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Postcards from the recession: Silverlake

The economic malaise may be hitting Silverlake, an urban neighborhood north of downtown Los Angeles, less than in the Inland Empire, but due to its bohemian demographics of people who rely more on contract work than regular paychecks, further austerity measures are in order. Such as letting go of psychiatrists, chiropractors, pool men, maids and gardeners. Oh, the humanity! From an L.A. Times series:

Most of the people I know don't have regular jobs. They're writers, actors, musicians, artists, photographers and filmmakers. They also are middle-class taxpayers who carry mortgages and send their kids to public school...

But this is different. This is bad. Although no one I know is in foreclosure, my friends and neighbors are experiencing persistent economic erosion.

Census figures say that nearly 70,000 self-employed people work in the arts in Los Angeles. Their job losses won't show up in unemployment numbers because they don't have regular jobs to lose, but they're hurting...

Some folks are still working but doing lesser jobs at lower rates. An actor who had a network TV series two years ago is writing "webisodes" for an online comedy show. An editor who was doing indie feature films last year is struggling to get hired for direct-to-video horror movies. Magazine writers aren't getting freelance assignments because that work is being done by staff editors...

Some friends are selling out -- or trying to. An actor friend took advantage of his union's offer of help in getting a census-taking job; so did, on the day the test was offered, hundreds of his SAG peers. A musician friend who couldn't make ends meet finally decided to look for a job with a catering company; he stood in line for several hours, one of 300 people vying for the same half a dozen positions, shamed, he said, by the "hushed, defeated looks on the other applicants' faces."

Other friends are pulling up stakes. One actor pal moved to Phoenix for a "real" job. A gifted writer has decided to leave the state for a tenured teaching post, though it means leaving her family here. "It's scary to consider making such a big change," she told me. "But it's scarier standing still and hoping things will get better." Another writer, who works as a counselor, thought this was the year he and his set-designer husband could quit their day jobs, cash out and leave California. Now, he says, they can't sell their house without taking a loss.

But this paragraph really shows the pain hitting this area:

Still others have taken less dramatic steps. Some have fired gardeners, pool men or maids. They've saved money and gained new respect for the backbreaking work required to maintain their gardens and homes.

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