California's Strengths

WHEN California's economy stumbles, the rest of the United States feels a jolt. That's why the Clinton administration is moving to shore up the state apparently hit hardest in the current nationwide downturn.

The Golden State has lost more than 700,000 jobs since December of 1990, a decline that has spawned predictions of a major economic slump.

But with its 30 million residents, California still has many more people employed than most other states.

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Job losses, however, constitute a trend both Republican Gov. Pete Wilson and the state's Democrats want to reverse, and recent economic signs indicate they may be succeeding.

California's unemployment rate was 8.6 percent in November, down from 9.8 percent in October but still well above the national average, which is at 6.4 percent now, with many people simply dropping out of the labor force.

President Clinton recently made his eighth trip to California since his election. Obviously, the president of the United States has to be concerned about a major slump in the economy of its largest and wealthiest state.

But Mr. Clinton is also looking to 1996 and a possible second term.

Based on recent polls, the Democratic president will need much more political clout than is now evident to be able to count on California's electorate.

The state's troublesome economic situation would seem disheartening, but queries put to a number of California's political and economic experts bring almost universally optimistic responses.

That of Martin Anderson, a senior fellow of the Hoover Institution, housed at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., is typical.

He says that California assets - including a highly skilled work force, excellent infrastructure, and access to foreign markets - will soon be reflected in rebounding of the state's economy.

Everyone who assesses the California economy points out that 40 percent of US trade with the Pacific rim nations goes through the state and that it will be a major conduit for trade spawned by NAFTA - the North American Free Trade Agreement.

With these strenghts to build on, California is in no real danger of losing the title of Golden State and is poised for an upturn that will be felt nationwide.

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