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Some Personal and Varied Outlooks on Today's Economy : These Are Neither the Best of Times nor the Worst of Times; They Are, Perhaps, the Most Confusing of Times in the U.S.

July 21, 1986

For Joe Valdez, 41, who runs an auto repair shop on Kenmore Avenue near Western Avenue, 1986 has been "like a roller coaster," with more downs than ups. But plummeting prices at the gasoline pumps are giving both him and his customers something to smile about. "My wife has a '79 Cadillac that she's driving again," he said. "We don't have to worry now about how much gas it uses."

Barry Dean, 55, president of upscale Dean Homes of Beverly Hills, reported an escalating demand for homes in the $2-million-to-$3-million bracket. Dean, who said he earns $500,000 annually, noted that although he is "not worried about the economy," he is "watching it."

In Silver Lake, Richard Falcon, manager of the United Bank branch, said his customers are bringing money in, "not taking it out."

Specter of a Strike

For Katie Soderberg Keir, 32, a directory assistance operator with Pacific Bell and member of the Communications Workers of America, the specter of a strike being called next month when her unit's contract expires is unsettling. Keir, a head of household who supports three children on a gross weekly pay of $430, said she would be "on the streets" if it weren't for the fact she rents a Van Nuys house from her parents for $450 a month.

These are neither the best of times nor the worst of times; they are, perhaps, the most confusing of economic times. Gimbel's is going under, U.S. Steel is no longer U.S. Steel, Congress is working on tax reform and the stock market is bouncing around like a beachball at Dodger Stadium (while the team languishes in the cellar). Still, interest rates are down and Hershey bars, we are promised, are going to get bigger.

But Alice Tsou, who runs the Chinese American Service Center in Echo Park, whose food giveaway program draws 300 to 400 people a month, said, "There are more homeless. I have never seen it worse." Tsou, 72, a retired County Department of Health employee, said, "I see people lying in the street. I see more beggars than before."

Two Chinese Groups

In the Chinese community, Tsou said, there are two groups: those who came here to establish businesses and the non-English-speaking who work in the garment sweatshops and restaurant kitchens of downtown's Chinatown, where they cluster in overcrowded housing. The latter are Tsou's clientele.

But the mainstream middle class--interviewed as part of an unscientific sampling of attitudes about the economy--appears to be less worried than it is resigned to changing life styles. For many, that precludes such traditional American prerogatives as single-family homes and annual vacation trips.

Griffin and Millicent Jackson agree they "don't keep up with the economy." But the couple, who've been married seven years and in November purchased a home in South-Central Los Angeles, have no trouble monitoring the economy's effect on them.

"It's worse," said Millicent, 40, who's in charge of mailing supplies for an insurance company. "It's no good for the average person," added Griffin, 53, who described his job as a foreman for a maintenance service as "minimum wage, no benefits, low pay."

With savings accumulated during the years Griffin earned more money by taking care of an elderly invalid, they have managed to buy a modest home but, Griffin said, "We're scraping the bottom just to make the payments. You know, you walk in a store and you see a pair of shoes you like. They're only $45 but you really can't afford it the way times are now."

Though they have seen better times financially, the Jacksons do not seem bitter about the sacrifices and cutbacks they have to make, even though Griffin suspects that people collecting welfare, food stamps and other public aid may have a higher standard of living than he and his wife.

The Jacksons have no children. Millicent explained, "That would just add to the problem."

"I don't follow the news," said Catherine Frogozo, 16, who had just finished her summer school algebra class at Marshall High near Silver Lake. She and her friend Irma Rosa, 15, said they had never heard of the Federal Reserve Board or the discount rate.

But Catherine and Irma do know about jobs and money and how costly it is for their parents to provide for them. Both girls said they are confident they could find summer jobs paying minimum wage if they looked around enough. (Catherine's work experience includes a stint at a McDonald's.)

The Frogozo family, with four children, lives in an apartment. "My parents want to buy a house," Catherine said, "and they've been saving for one." It is not the price of houses but uncertainty about future income that has caused them to defer this purchase. She explained, "My Mom and Dad worry that if either one got sick for even one month, then they'd miss a (mortgage) payment and lose everything."

The potential for strikes and the reality of technological change and shifts in corporate structure, as well as in the economy itself, are seen by union members as a major threat.

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