The most concrete characteristic of a recession is that demand disappears for some of the commodities produced by workers and unwanted unemployment is imposed on a large segment of the labor force. With growing job losses in the current recession it is important to know, whose boat falls when the economic tide recedes?
There are at least three reasons why it has become important for Los Angeles to exert purposeful influence on its own economic trajectory: The population has grown steadily but the number of jobs in the formal economy, where employers comply with labor law, is still below the level of 1990.
The South Bay Economic Adjustment Strategy has been prepared to help elected officials, public sector staff, business leaders, and citizens take coordinated, effective action to recover jobs lost because of defense cutbacks. The strategy has been prepared under a grant from the Office of Economic Adjustment in the Department of Defense that was administered by Los Angeles County’s Community Development Commission.
The City of Long Beach and other centers of aerospace production that reaped the rewards of the 1980s defense-spending boom must now confront the realities of restructuring. Since World War II, the Douglas Aircraft plant made Long Beach an important center of the US aerospace industry and dominated the local economy. In 1992, the Long Beach aerospace industry employed 36,100 workers, which was 22 percent of the city's total employment. Almost all of these workers were employed by McDonnell Douglas. Long Beach aerospace workers earned a total payroll of over $1.5 billion, which was 30 percent of the city's total payroll. These figures understate the total impact of aerospace on the Long Beach economy, through linkages with firms in other industries that provide inputs to the aerospace industry, and purchases of goods and services by aerospace workers.
This study examines how firms, workers, and regional economic development institution are dealing with the severe effects of defense downsizing in the Los Angeles region. Between 1988 and 1994 the Los Angeles region lost 127,000 jobs in defense-related industries, including aircraft, missiles, instruments, and electronics. The long economic slump set off by defense cuts has incited a major debate between the advocates of regional institution building and proactive economic development and those arguing for the laissez-faire approach of reducing taxes, wages, and environmental costs.