By Dan Walters
dwalters@sacbee.com The Sacramento Bee
Published: Sunday, Mar. 28, 2010 – 12:00 am | Page 3A

Californians are very worried about the state’s recession-wracked economy, recent polls have found – and with very good reason.

As the state’s once-booming housing industry went bust, the recession hit here somewhat earlier and harder than in the rest of the country. The national economy shows some signs of recovery, but they’re difficult to find in California.

The best one may conclude from forecasts by the state’s leading economists is that we may have hit bottom and may see some weak signs of recovery later in the year, but full recovery – if it happens – will take years.

How many years? In the absence of some new explosive boom, even a strong recovery would create, at most, perhaps 300,000 new jobs a year.

That sounds great, but California is still seeing strong population growth, so its potential labor force is still growing. Most of those 300,000 jobs would be needed just to meet that growth.

California has lost 1.4 million jobs in the past two years, including 20,400 more in February. Unemployment is 12.5 percent. Cutting it in half could take a decade – assuming that strong, sustained economic growth will visit the state.

Bill Watkins, who runs an economic forecast unit at California Lutheran University, says in a new overview, “The short version of our forecast is that economic activity will slowly pick up in California, while job losses will continue, but at declining rates.”

“The picture one gets is of a generally weak, jobless, recovery that will be geographically and sectorally uneven,” Watkins adds. “Unfortunately for most Californians, 2010 is likely to be another challenging economic year.”

As the recession – or its perception – dominates the public consciousness, it will have a heavy impact on the political climate as voters fill hundreds of political offices and decide the fate of many heavy-duty ballot measures.

Californians are clearly angry and worried about their futures. That angst could mean rough times for incumbent officeholders while changing the chemistry of ballot measure campaigns.

It could set the stage, for instance, for a ballot measure that would indirectly repeal AB 32, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s anti-global warming law that has generated strong opposition from business.

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