Dan Walters

By Dan Walters
Published: Monday, Oct. 17, 2011 – 12:00 am | Page 3A

The last big recession to hit California was in the early 1990s and largely centered in Southern California, as the aerospace industry was clobbered by the end of the Cold War.

Los Angeles County alone lost 437,000 jobs between 1990 and 1994, at least half of them directly tied to military spending. The result was a massive exodus out of the state.

Economists believe that at least 1.5 million Californians, and perhaps as many as 2 million, left the state, with defense workers and their families in the lead. As UCLA economist Jerry Nickelsburg put it: “As their economic opportunities diminished in Los Angeles, they packed up and moved to Texas, Massachusetts, Georgia, or wherever their skills were in demand.”

The exodus made recovery from the recession much easier, simply because it reduced the ranks of the unemployed by several hundred thousand.

By the late 1990s, California had largely rebounded from recession – only to see two other booms and busts in rapid succession, culminating in the current, even deeper recession.

Oddly, even though our economic malaise is worse than the one two decades ago, and appears to have more staying power, we have not seen the mass movement out of the state that we experienced then.


One reason, certainly, is that California’s recession is part of a national, and even international, economic downturn. Were some of California’s 2 million-plus jobless workers to seek jobs elsewhere, there are fewer locales in need of workers.

Nevertheless, the overall job picture is healthier almost anywhere else in this country, and some states have very low unemployment levels. So why are Californians staying put? There’s no research on this question, so we are left with educated guesses.

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