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Will economic inequality turn LA into a 'Third World' city?




A woman folds clothes at a homeless encampment above a downtown Los Angeles freeway on May 12, 2015. A report released by the Los Angeles Homeless Authority on May 11 showed a 12% increase in the homeless population in both Los Angeles city and county, which according to the report have been driven by soaring rents, low wages and stubbornly high unemployment. One of the most striking findings from the biennial figures released saw the number of makeshift encampments, tents and vehicles occupied by the homeless increased 85%.  AFP PHOTO / FREDERIC J. BROWN        (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
A woman folds clothes at a homeless encampment above a downtown Los Angeles freeway on May 12, 2015. A report released by the Los Angeles Homeless Authority on May 11 showed a 12% increase in the homeless population in both Los Angeles city and county, which according to the report have been driven by soaring rents, low wages and stubbornly high unemployment. One of the most striking findings from the biennial figures released saw the number of makeshift encampments, tents and vehicles occupied by the homeless increased 85%. AFP PHOTO / FREDERIC J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

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The city of Los Angeles has sometimes been called a melting pot. That metaphor implies that different elements of the city — racial, ethnic, and economic — have melted together into one harmonious whole. But the city's history has hardly been one of overall harmony; certainly not economically in recent years.

Affordable housing is hard to come by. Homelessness continues to rise in LA County. The gap between the 'haves' and 'have-nots' continues to widen.

In an opinion piece for The New York Times, journalist and award-winning author Hector Tobar argues that the widening gap between the 'ultrarich' and poor Angelenos is turning Los Angeles into a 'Third World' city — a label he used to reject:

"As a native of the city, I was offended to hear it tagged with such a denigrating label. But in recent years, and for different reasons, I’ve come to believe that a metropolis of the 'developing world,' to use a more polite expression, is being born here."

"Its center is not in East Los Angeles, or any other Latino neighborhood; nor in our recently christened 'Little Bangladesh.' The third world exists everywhere here — in the spread of inequality."

Tobar spoke with Take Two about the socioeconomic changes he's observed across Los Angeles over his lifetime, and how he sees the "city of a developing world being born in LA...in the extremes of wealth and poverty."

"Just in the area where I live...in northeast Los Angeles, to see the real estate prices zooming, to where a 3-bedroom house in a very middle class neighborhood can cost you a million dollars, and you're a block away from a homeless camp? That's not the LA that I grew up in," Tobar said.

To listen to Take Two's entire interview with Hector Tobar, please click on the audio player above.

Hector Tobar's most recent book is, "Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine and the Miracle That Set Them Free."