3 Things You Didn't Know About LA : The Indicator from Planet Money Los Angeles - it's not what you think.
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3 Things You Didn't Know About LA

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3 Things You Didn't Know About LA

3 Things You Didn't Know About LA

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DANIEL DAY-LEWIS: (As Daniel Plainview) I'm an oil man, ladies and gentlemen. I have numerous concerns spread across this state. I have many wells flowing at many thousand barrels a day. I like to think of myself as an oil man.


An oil man - does Daniel Day-Lewis consider himself in the movie "There Will Be Blood" about the oil boom in Southern California in the early 20th century. I'm Cardiff Garcia, and this is THE INDICATOR FROM PLANET MONEY, where every day, we tell you a short story about the economy. Stacey's out today. But for the rest of this week, she and I will be telling stories about California, where we spent all of last week - stories about trade, immigration, housing, homelessness.

But first on today's show, three surprising indicators about the economy of Los Angeles and the surrounding area, each indicator explaining why this is a diverse powerhouse economy well beyond the film and entertainment industry that it's so well-known for. Why, in other words, this economy is as much "There Will Be Blood" as it is "La La Land."


GARCIA: Last Friday, my last day in Los Angeles, I trekked up a big hill with NPR business reporter and LA resident Sonari Glinton.

Sonari, where are we?

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: We're at the Baldwin Hills Overlook, which is - you have likely seen this in a commercial, where it's sort of in the middle of the LA basin. And it gives us this incredible view. So - as you can look almost 360, and see all the way around the Los Angeles basin.

GARCIA: This is what the literary types would call a sweeping vista, I think. Where are the movie lots?

GLINTON: Well one of the movie lots we're, like, very nearby. That right there is Culver Studios. It's where Mel Brooks has his office. It's where they filmed "Gone With The Wind." Sony is over there. And Century City obscures 20th Century Fox, or 21st Century Fox, the movie studio. And the other movie studios we can't see because they're in the valley. And Paramount is somewhere in Hollywood.

GARCIA: OK. And we've got you here because when people think of LA, they think of some fairly obvious industries, right? Film, entertainment, Hollywood. There's more to it than that.

GLINTON: Yeah. Do you think that 18 million people moved here because of Hollywood?

GARCIA: That's a lot of people with dreams of stardom.

GLINTON: Yeah. That ain't what it's about. I mean, Hollywood is very important, clearly. But that's just one of the bobbles in a drawer full of industries.

GARCIA: All right. You were kind of annoyed by this monolithic perception of your city. And you wanted to do an indicator 'cause there are some stats that people really need to know about the city of Los Angeles and the surrounding area.

GLINTON: Yeah. People's view of LA is often, as we're going to do now, framed through the lens of a New Yorker.


GLINTON: And, like, you know, like, how is this not like New York? - is how people always talk about LA. But it is a uniquely American city that grew up in part because of these stats.

GARCIA: OK. Let's do some indicators. Planet Money indicator number one is 350,900. That's how many manufacturing jobs are in LA County. That is more than any other county in the nation. I did not know that we are standing in the middle of a manufacturing powerhouse. What's the story behind that?

GLINTON: Well, Los Angeles has always been a manufacturing city. You see that in the distance there, where you if you follow downtown, and you see, like, these low-slung, white-ish buildings?


GLINTON: Those are almost all these huge warehouse buildings. But what's interesting about that is it's been slow to give up that manufacturing. Remember that around World War II, we started building planes in Burbank over that big hill there. And a lot of defense contractors came here. Now, a lot of that has sort of retreated, but it has left a manufacturing infrastructure that, again, is hundreds of thousands of jobs, equal to what's in Hollywood.

GARCIA: What else do they still make out here in LA?

GLINTON: We still make - well, we still make bespoke furniture, so custom-made furniture. That's a thing. Blue jeans. Now there are things like - helicopters still get made. Space X is here. And the new tech - so if you think about drone manufacturers, electric bikes, all the kind of new technology that gets thought up in Silicon Valley. If it gets made in America, a lot of it gets made in and around here.

GARCIA: And it's also a proud history of aerospace manufacturing in this town as well.

GLINTON: Oh, yeah, that's one of my favorite things when I was talking about Burbank. They - when - back during World War II, one of the things they did is they put a huge tarp over almost the whole town to hide the planes that they were building under from - you know, from spy planes. We don't - I don't believe that actually any spy planes got over (laughter) Los Angeles. But I think that is, like, one of my most - that's one of my favorite images, is Hollywood and aerospace joining together. And that's one of the things that made Burbank.

GARCIA: OK. Planet Money indicator number two - 3,468. That's how many active oil wells are also in Los Angeles County. That's according to the Los Angeles Department of Public Health. Turns out LA is very much an oil town.

GLINTON: Yeah. And we're right next to the Inglewood Oil Field, which is LA's second-largest oil field. And it's one of the largest urban oil fields in America. There are still millions of gallons of oil still under here. Hundreds of millions of gallons have been pumped. And this is one of the reasons that LA is here. Now, if we look around this long, flat basin - right? - imagine it's always been hard to get across it. It was hard for a horse and not a lot of water, right?

But when oil was discovered and you could - it was here. You didn't have to truck it over the mountains or ship it in. That allows us to have the car. People think the car made LA. No, it wasn't the car that made LA. It was the fact it had cheap oil here that allowed us to have the car, which allows us to make LA.

But if it didn't, if the people like, you know, William Doheny didn't find oil and all the other people - who we named streets after, by the way. Like, you know, George Burns Street is about a block long, but Doheny goes for miles and miles, right? And that's a dude who found oil. The oil is the guy behind the guy. And we still do it. A lot of the oil that comes from the state of California comes from under the ground nearby that we're standing.

GARCIA: OK. Planet Money indicator number three - and I'm just going to read this straight from the Census Bureau. The nation's most densely populated urban area is Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim with nearly 7,000 people per square mile. And, yes, that is denser than New York-Newark. Sonari, I was skeptical when I first heard this statistic.

GLINTON: Well, you know, It makes sense to be skeptical 'cause in Midtown Manhattan, you know, the density is probably - and I looked this up a little bit before - is over a hundred thousand per square mile. That's way above the most dense part of LA, which is Koreatown, which is that section of LA right there. But if...

GARCIA: But it makes sense, man, 'cause, like, you look at Midtown Manhattan, and there's skyscrapers everywhere and people living in those skyscrapers, right? Here, I'm looking at this vista, and it's gorgeous. It's also incredibly flat.

GLINTON: Yeah. And it's flat. And it's like, you know, like, as far as the eye can see?


GLINTON: Like, this is just LA. Beyond that, which we can't even see 'cause of the - because of the air is Orange County. And then beyond that is San Diego. I mean, from - so if you think from nearly Santa Barbara to nearly San Diego 18 million people, people are pretty tightly packed in. Yeah, they may have backyards and stuff, but that for miles and miles and miles they're tightly packed in.

GARCIA: That last indicator about the density of the LA metropolitan area does come with a caveat, as Sonari says. The city of New York is denser than the city of Los Angeles, but the density of the area surrounding Los Angeles, greater Los Angeles, is higher and more consistent. And that's what accounts for the fact that the LA metro area is the densest in the country. It also helps explain why LA County has the highest total employment, with almost 4 1/2 million jobs, of any county in the country.

Stacey's back with me in the studio tomorrow, and links about today's indicators are at npr.org/money. This podcast is produced by Darius Rafieyan and edited by Paddy Hirsch.

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