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September 14, 2014

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THE ECONOMY:

Recovery moving slowly but steadily

Critics call stimulus a failure, but others see welcome progress

Image

Steve Marcus

CityCenter’s Mac Lopez, right, gives encouragement to Adriana Vargas, second from left, during a food and beverage job fair at the CityCenter Career Center on July 16. Vargas said she was recently laid off from the M Resort in Henderson. The Nevada unemployment rate is at 12 percent, 12.3 percent in Las Vegas. More than 169,000 Nevadans are out of work.

BY THE NUMBERS

Some gains to come …

1,100 — Jobs one expert estimates will be created by Nevada Transportation Department projects made possible by the economic recovery plan

285 — Positions the Clark County School District is looking to fill, thanks to $114 million from the recovery act. Of those jobs, 130 will be teachers; the rest will be staff support positions. Other districts statewide will also be hiring.

… But not soon enough

169,000 — Nevadans out of work. The state unemployment rate is 12 percent. In Las Vegas, it’s 12.3 percent.

John Restrepo

John Restrepo

In a state where the ranks of the unemployed could fill one of Nevada’s largest cities, hiring a construction crew for highway paving or a few hundred schoolteachers doesn’t sound like much.

But it is beginning to add up. Putting Nevadans back to work under the economic recovery plan is happening, if slowly.

Forty-five workers are on the job building a park-and-ride lot in Southern Nevada, the first of several transportation projects that one Las Vegas economist estimates will bring 1,100 full-time jobs to the area, generating $74 million in direct wages.

The Nevada Transportation Department began its first of $152 million in state road projects last week, repaving a highway stretch near Winnemucca, with three more projects to start by month’s end, generating about 100 jobs.

Clark County is hiring 130 teachers and 155 staff support positions, thanks to $114 million from the recovery act. Dozens more school personnel are being hired in districts statewide.

“This is better than nothing,” said economist John Restrepo, of Restrepo Consulting Group, who estimates the 1,100 transportation jobs will grow to 1,700 jobs in related businesses, generating another $28 million in wages.

“It will mitigate to a small degree the pain seen in the rest of the economy,” Restrepo said.

The $787 billion economic recovery bill passed by Congress and signed into law was the largest influx of cash in the nation’s history, and with good reason: In January more jobs were lost nationwide than at any time since the Bureau of Labor started keeping track, the White House said.

President Barack Obama has estimated that 34,000 jobs would be saved or created in Nevada with the recovery package — part of the 3.5 million jobs nationwide. Private estimates at the time put the number of Nevada jobs as high as 62,000.

Critics say the recovery is not coming as quickly or robustly as had been hoped.

Republicans in Washington mostly voted against the bill and they now call it a failure. Even its supporters wish dollars and jobs were flowing faster. Mayor Oscar Goodman complained last week that only $4,800 had come to the city — less than he said he bets on a football game.

Obama’s aides made their best argument for their work at a meeting with reporters this week at the White House: The economy would be worse without the recovery bill.

“This was designed to cushion the blow, cushion the downturn,” Obama’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, told reporters, “make less deep the pothole.”

That’s a hard sell. Nevada’s unemployment rate is at 12 percent — 12.3 percent in Las Vegas. More than 169,000 Nevadans are out of work.

But the White House advisers explained that as Obama was preparing to take office, the incoming administration — and many private economists — did not foresee the extent of the economic downturn.

The recession that began in December 2007 has been deeper than any since the Great Depression. Whereas past recessions in the 1990s and after the 9/11 terror attacks produced nine months of job losses, this economy has faced a downturn for 18 months. Only the early 1980s recession comes close to that steep of a drop on the charts.

The number of jobs being lost each month has slowed since the recovery bill was passed in February. Vice President Joe Biden’s economic adviser Jared Bernstein said the economy is not going to suddenly flip from a loss of 500,000 jobs a month to a loss of none.

Without the recovery bill, Bernstein estimates, today’s 9.5 percent national unemployment rate would be even higher — likely at 10 percent.

Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley said the $1.6 billion in the recovery bill for Nevada is accomplishing more than residents may realize.

She said much of the spending went directly to the jobless — a $25 a week increase in unemployment benefits and an extension of those benefits. An estimated 10,000 jobless Nevadans each month who otherwise would have exhausted their aid are still getting checks.

The recovery act sent Medicaid funding to the states to help provide health care to those who have lost their insurance, and it is paying to help the newly unemployed retain their employer-backed coverage under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA).

Republicans last week derided money in the recovery bill that went to buy hundreds of pounds of ham, but the White House shot back that the ham was sent to a food pantry.

Berkley, who voted for the bill, said she wished the money were flowing faster, but she believes the money is heading into the pipeline and making a difference.

“The stimulus package is providing a bridge from where we are, which is a bad place, to where we’re going, which is a good place,” she said. “That unemployment money is saving families.”

The Las Vegas Sun asked Obama administration officials why the White House didn’t give preferential treatment to harder hit states such as Nevada.

The White House said it left most of the details of the bill to Congress, which drew up the legislation mostly according to existing formulas for spending in the states.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he squeezed out additional money for Nevada for Medicaid. But the bill forbade earmarks — those specially funded projects slipped into bills by elected officials.

Obama’s advisers noted that the administration has stepped up foreclosure assistance for Nevadans and Las Vegas is competing for $8 billion in rail funding from the recovery act to build a high-speed train to Southern California that would create jobs (although organizers of one of the rail projects claim it is a private enterprise not seeking recovery dollars).

Administration adviser G. Edward DeSeve said one of the myths of the recovery spending is that the pace is too slow. The spending, he said, is on track: One-quarter of the way through the nearly two-year effort, slightly more than 25 percent of the money is out the door.

The White House thinks 750,000 jobs nationwide will have been saved or created by the 200th day of the act this fall.

Gibbs tells a story about a recent talk he had with the president in the Oval Office. He said Obama told him he knows he could have spent the money more quickly.

We could have hired a bunch of people to dig holes and fill them back up, the president said.

But then what would we have to show for it? the president said. Filled up holes.

In a short time, a crew will begin the $3 million landscaping project along Highway 95 near Las Vegas — the contract was just awarded. Later this month $5 million from the recovery act will help the Central City Terminal in Southern Nevada. By fall the Boulder Highway Rapid Transit Line should be under way.

It’s a long way to get to 34,000 jobs. And even those jobs will put just a dent in the ranks of the unemployed in Nevada. But it could be worse.

Mascaro reported from Washington, Richmond from Las Vegas and Schwartz from Carson City. Sun staff writer Cy Ryan also contributed to this report from Carson City.

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