Las Vegas September Unemployment Climbs to Historic High of 15%

Unemployment in my hometown of Las Vegas jumped to 15% in September, setting a new, all-time high for Nevada's largest labor market and likely maintaining the city's spot as the nation's most unemployed city.

The Las Vegas jobless rate grew three-tenths of a percentage point in September over August, while the state's rate remained steady at 14.4%, the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation (DETR) reporting early this morning. On a more positive note, it was the first time since January that the state rate did not increase, and only the second time the rate did not grow since the Great Recession began.

Unemployment rates in each of Nevada's metropolitan areas increased from August to September. (Unemployment rates for the state’s metropolitan areas are not adjusted for seasonality. For comparison purposes, the state’s unadjusted unemployment rate was 14.5% in September, up from 14.2% in August.) 

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics will release the September's metropolitan Area unemployment figures Wednesday, Nov. 3, at which time it will be known if Las Vegas has retained its dubious #1 ranking in unemployment among the nation's major cities.

"Recently released employment projections show considerable job loss through 2011," DETR Chief Economist Bill Anderson said in a statement. "In 2012, job loss will subside significantly, but a weak economic climate will keep outright growth in check."

The state doesn't expect broad employment growth until 2013, and "even then, expectations are for weak employment growth at best," Anderson continued. "The recovery will most certainly differ from typical rebounds, but this recession has been anything but typical. Following recent recessions, Nevada’s economy boomed, driven by new growth and construction. Given its current state of high home foreclosures, falling prices and weak demand for new commercial development, new construction will not stimulate growth across the broader economy anytime soon."

The biggest job losers continue to be those most affected by the recession: leisure and hospitality and construction. Federal government employment continues to decline as the 2010 centennial census winds down. Employment in Nevada’s trade sectors remained flat, but with the holiday hiring season just around the corner, employers should start adding jobs over the next couple of months.

In recent months, unemployment growth has begun to subside, suggesting that the labor market may finally be bottoming out, Anderson said, while also noting that at the national level, personal income has increased nearly every month this year.

“The question is: when and by how much will income growth translate to improvements in Nevada’s tourism-based economy?” Anderson asked. “That translation has a lot to do with consumers’ willingness and ability to pay for a trip to Nevada. While it’s still early, we may be seeing some tentative signs of improvement."

For example, visitation to Las Vegas increased nearly every month in the last year, he said. Also, in recent months, both taxable sales and gaming win recorded sizable year-over- year gains.

A few hours after the state released its figures, the BLS reported that employers undertook 1,486 mass layoffs affecting 133,379 workers in September. Despite the alarming-sounding news, layoffs decreased for the third consecutive month, while associated initial claims decreased to their lowest level since April 2008.

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