Las Vegas Sun

July 30, 2014

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Minorities are flocking to Las Vegas Valley

More minorities are putting down roots in the Las Vegas Valley than any other area, a 2000 Census report released Thursday says.

Nevada became home for more Asians and native Hawaiians than any other state between 1995 and 2000, and was second only to Florida for Hispanics.

More Hispanics moved to Clark County than any other county in the nation, and it also had the second highest number of new residents who were non-Hispanic whites, behind Arizona's Maricopa County.

The new census figures measured net migration between states from 1995 and 2000 for specific racial and ethnic groups. So while California easily bested Nevada in the number of those minorities who moved in, even more left the Golden State by 2000, for a net loss.

In addition to racking up the high numbers of new residents who want to call themselves Nevadans, the state posted the highest rates of migration for all of the racial and ethnic categories. The net migration rate measures how many people in each group moved in and stayed per 1,000 in that population.

This is consistent with Nevada's long-held fastest growth rate in the nation. What surprised the experts was that Nevada, the 35th biggest state, surpassed larger and more diverse states in the pure numbers.

"I would have guessed that, in terms of numbers, they would have trumped us," said Robert Parker, a University of Nevada, Las Vegas sociology professor who specializes in urban issues such as work and race relations.

Tony Sanchez, Latin Chamber of Commerce president, was similarly surprised.

"Wow, to have even more than Los Angeles ... that is amazing," Sanchez said.

"Proportionately we have always been the fastest growing, which is a reflection of our good economy and the fact that we have jobs. Two working parents can afford a home, which is not the case in other parts of the country."

State Demographer Jeff Hardcastle said he was unable to tell how the 2000 net migration numbers compared with previous census numbers in terms of race.

He said Nevada still trails Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Arizona in net immigration for all races combined according to the 2000 data.

The No. 1 reason for people to come to Las Vegas is jobs, followed by the affordability of housing, said Keith Schwer, director of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Center for Business and Economic Research.

He said domestic immigration has historically provided more benefits to Clark County than costs, as immigrants often "push the economic opportunity upward and improve quality of life."

Immigrants from Hawaii and California are also escaping harsh economic pressures in their home states, Schwer and UNLV sociology professor Robert Parker said. Many have seen family and friends find success in Las Vegas. "The first thing (that brings people here) is the economy, but after people try to figure out how to get out of their current economic milieus, then they think of where do they know people," Parker said.

When Hawaii tourism took a hit in the late 1990s, many native Hawaiians found it easy to transition to the tourist economy of Las Vegas, Parker said.

Native Hawaiian Leialoha Kekuewa said there is also a strong Hawaiian culture in Las Vegas to welcome future immigrants.

"We try to stay as a family, ohana, and comfort each other because we know each other's culture," said Kekuewa, who migrated to what Hawaiians call "the ninth island" in 1991. Like many native Hawaiians, Kekuewa came here for the job opportunities and affordable housing. She works at Hawaiian Hale at Sahara Avenue and Valley View Boulevard.

Asians, many of whom own their own small businesses, similarly come here for the economic opportunity, Tonie Sison, president of the Filipino Chamber of Commerce, said.

Many Asian immigrants who had already been living in the United States are also drawn to Las Vegas because of the weather, the nightlife and for retirement, Sison said.

Sanchez, of the Latin Chamber of Commerce, said both domestic and international Hispanic immigrants find it easier to migrate to Las Vegas than the rest of the country.

"More people are catering to Hispanics here," Sanchez said. "It's easier to assimilate here, almost a seamless transition, which you have in L.A. and Florida too, but by and large, as everyone knows in California, we have a lot more opportunity here than anywhere else in the nation."

California lost people over the five-year period of the census report, with a domestic net loss of more than 700,000 people across all racial groups. About 193,000 of those people came to Nevada.

Parker, the UNLV sociologist, believes an increasing number of immigrants from other countries will bypass California and come straight to Las Vegas. Others share that opinion.

"A lot of people know that Las Vegas has been the No. 1 to No 3 job center," Parker said. "We really churn out the jobs and a lot of people are onto that. It is not a mystery that it is growing that fast."

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