Richard and Gayle Howard left friends, family and their native Ohio in the spring of 1985 at a time when many companies in Ohio and other states were losing out to the Rust Belt's economic struggles. Like tens of thousands of other Americans, the young couple saw Texas as the answer to their woes.

But the good times in Texas lasted only a year, and today the Howards are among the thousands of displaced Texans who have moved to the Washington area in search of jobs and a more stable life style.

"We went to Texas thinking we'd spend the rest of our lives there," said Gayle Howard, 35, an administrative assistant with a Vienna mortgage firm. "I was happy. My husband was happy, and our daughter was in school. So all was content with the world.

"Then the rug came out and everything fell apart," she said.

The past two years have been anything but stable for the Howards and their 4-year-old daughter, Alexandra. In early 1985, Richard Howard, an architect, was laid off from his job in Toledo. After searching for work, he ended up with a large Dallas architectural firm. Several months later, his wife and daughter joined him after she managed to sell their Ohio home.

"We thought of it as an adventure," she said.

But that same year the construction frenzy in Dallas screeched to a halt, creating new uncertainty for the Howards.

"It was around Christmas, and I watched other people being laid off. It was a few people each week," said Richard Howard, 35. Then he received his notice.

Once again Howard began searching for work. In the summer of 1986, he joined the staff of Dewberry & Davis, a large Fairfax architectural firm where seven other unemployed architects from Howard's Dallas firm also work.

"I just thought Washington was a more stable economy," Richard Howard said of his reason for coming to the area.

He said his salary is comparable to what he made in Texas, although he acknowledged that he was surprised at the higher housing costs and other expenses in the Washington area. "But I have to look at it as the cost of security," he said.

After several more months of separation -- during which the long-distance telephone bills mounted -- his wife and daughter joined him last fall in a rented Annandale house that is half the size of their Texas home.

"It was a lot of unsettledness, and I'm not a real good person for change," Gayle Howard said. "Being separated, from an emotional standpoint, was hell."

The couple has not yet been able to sell their suburban Dallas home because of the devastated Texas market, and a Texas real estate agent recently told the Howards they should expect to get $10,000 to $25,000 less than the price they paid in 1986.

"I just don't have the sense of security I once had," Gayle Howard said.

For Richard Howard, life in Washington "is pretty comfortable now. I don't have the same concerns about business slowing down."

But after the past two years, he said he now looks for signs of pending economic trouble.

"It was very difficult, and I'm still not sure it's over yet," he said.