Las Vegas Sun

April 16, 2014

Currently: 63° — Complete forecast | Log in | Create an account

Report: Las Vegas’ recovery hurt by lack of education, diversification

Image

Leila Navidi

Nevada JobConnect on Maryland Parkway in Las Vegas. A new report finds that economic recovery in Las Vegas is hampered by a lack of educated workers and reliance on industries most vulnerable to the recession.

Las Vegas’ attempt to turn the corner on the recession has been made more difficult by a lack of educated workers coupled with reliance on industries most vulnerable to the recession.

That’s what can be drawn from a report issued by the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington. Brookings found that cities with the lowest unemployment rates tended to be those that have enough educated workers to fill available jobs along with industries that are either growing or more resistant to recession.

The report, co-authored by Brookings senior research analyst Jonathan Rothwell and think tank fellow and Research Director Alan Berube, grouped the nation’s 100 largest metro areas into four categories based on jobs and education data from December 2007 through December 2009. The Washington/Arlington/Alexandria metro area emerged on top with the healthiest mix of educated workers and industries most resilient to the recession. Other cities lower on the list either have a well-educated workforce and vulnerable industries or resilient businesses but less-educated workers.

Then there is Las Vegas, which tied for 84th and was mired in the bottom tier, along with cities such as Los Angeles; Riverside, Calif.; Phoenix; Detroit; Houston; and Dallas that have too few educated workers and too many vulnerable employers.

“These metro areas are not well positioned to recover unless national demand for what their industries produce rebounds significantly, and they may have to diversify into faster growing industries like health care, professional services and clean energy,” the authors wrote. “Moreover, regardless of national industry demand, above-average unemployment rates will tend to persist until they can either boost educational attainment or stimulate greater employer demand for less educated workers.”

Brookings reported that in 2007, 27 percent of Las Vegas’ workforce was concentrated in two “extremely fragile” industries: hotel accommodation and construction. Both industries were pummeled by the recession, leaving Las Vegas with double-digit unemployment and record foreclosure rates.

Of the nation’s top metros, only Riverside, Modesto and Stockton, Calif., had greater increases in their unemployment rate than Las Vegas from pre-recession lows through May. As of July, unemployment in Las Vegas was 14 percent, compared with 9.1 percent nationally.

The think tank ranked Las Vegas 55th in its ability to fill jobs with workers who possess the requisite education, an average score that Rothwell attributed to the fact that most jobs in the resort and construction industries don’t require advanced degrees. What dragged Las Vegas down in the study was the ability — or inability — of its key industries to create jobs. Those industries not only lost jobs during the recession but lost a higher percentage of them than was true nationally. The city ranked 94th in that category.

Brookings calculated that Las Vegas lost 38,140 construction jobs from the beginning of the recession in December 2007 through 2009. Building construction jobs fell 41 percent in Las Vegas versus 30.6 percent nationally; heavy construction and civil engineering jobs dropped by 35 percent locally compared with 17.6 percent nationwide, and jobs for specialty trade contractors declined by 36 percent versus 28.5 percent nationally.

The think tank also found that Las Vegas lost 17,000 resort industry jobs for a 9 percent decline, compared with a 5.8 percent drop nationwide.

“Las Vegas is a fascinating place because, before the recession, it enjoyed low unemployment and rapid job growth despite having a fairly less educated population,” Rothwell said. “But with the recession, it saw a sudden drop in demand for construction and tourism, which created a crisis in the metro area.”

Although not optimistic that Las Vegas will see its bad times reversed anytime soon, Rothwell said the metro area could try to offer more economic incentives, such as property tax breaks, to lure new businesses. He also recommended that the tourism industry step up advertising overseas to attract customers while the U.S. economy stalls. And he said the state should explore job training programs such as one in Louisiana, where the state pays to train a worker as long as a company guarantees a job for that individual.

Some economic problems are out of Las Vegas’ control, said Jeremy Aguero, a principal of the economic analysis firm Applied Analysis. He cited construction as an example because it relies on factors such as population growth and increasing demand for commercial buildings because of expansion of sales and manufacturing.

But Aguero said that in the push for economic diversification, Las Vegas shouldn’t ignore the tourism industry, which has shown that it can diversify on its own. The Ultimate Fighting Championship, a sport based in Las Vegas that has enjoyed enormous growth in recent years, is an example of how tourism can expand its reach, he said.

Aguero also stressed the need to support education as a way to strengthen the valley’s economy.

“There is no question that our education system in Southern Nevada is failing because of high dropout rates and low test scores,” Aguero said. “Southern Nevada students are falling behind, which will make them less marketable and means there will be fewer entrepreneurs.”

Join the Discussion:

Check this out for a full explanation of our conversion to the LiveFyre commenting system and instructions on how to sign up for an account.

Full comments policy

Previous Discussion: 18 comments so far…

Comments are moderated by Las Vegas Sun editors. Our goal is not to limit the discussion, but rather to elevate it. Comments should be relevant and contain no abusive language. Comments that are off-topic, vulgar, profane or include personal attacks will be removed. Full comments policy. Additionally, we now display comments from trusted commenters by default. Those wishing to become a trusted commenter need to verify their identity or sign in with Facebook Connect to tie their Facebook account to their Las Vegas Sun account. For more on this change, read our story about how it works and why we did it.

Only trusted comments are displayed on this page. Untrusted comments have expired from this story.

  1. Part 1

    Let's get real about where the problem with "lack of education" starts: In the Clark County School District.

    I'm now dealing with women aged 25 to 31 who are unemployed and who don't have high school diplomas. All of them are fairly intelligent, and were formerly employees of "call centers" which several years ago were touted as diversification of Las Vegas' employment base. All of the women worked for call centers which are now closed.

    The not-unique story each of them tells is that when they were in high school here in Las Vegas and Henderson, and they had family problems like parental suicide, parental drunkenness, parental nervous break down, the Clark County School District provided them no compassion, no slack, no help at all. Instead the Clark County School District simply expelled them for missing too many days of school, uniformly because these women (then girls) were dealing with their families' problems.

    Then, there's the "lost boy" who lives in the garage of a distant relative. I met him in 2006, when he told me he was expelled from Canarelli Middle School in 2005 for missing too many days of school. His explanation was that he had to work a job in the evening to earn his living expenses because both of his parents have bugged out. He lived far away from the school bus stop, and when he would oversleep due to exhaustion there was no public bus service and it was way too far to walk to school. The CCSD didn't even bother to look for this kid, even though by my calculation he was expelled from Canarelli when he was 13 or 14 years old. (I called Canarelli's Principal about him, was shuffled off to an Assistant Principal, and she just blew me off.) We saw the lost boy at Smith's recently. He's now about 20 years old, unemployed, still living in the garage, still doesn't have any way to get around because there's no bus service in the far southwest of the valley. Realistically, he too has no hope of getting a job.

    Then there's Sierra Vista High School. Count the number of black young men entering as Freshmen and count the number of black young men graduating: Less than 40%. It sure looks like CCSD doesn't care about that statistic.

  2. Part 2

    The Clark County School District has been failing its students for 14 years, based on what the 31 year olds tell me. Maybe they've been failing their students even longer.

    Instead of addressing the problems of its students, the Clark County School District just turns a blind eye, and then to make it even worse, institutes a diploma requirement that students pass Algebra 1 and Algebra 2, which is an elitist requirement totally unrelated to preparing high school students for the work force in the jobs Las Vegas presents.

    I remember getting something like an 94% or 96% on my high school Algebra 2 exam. What did I do with Algebra 2 after high school? Nothing. How much money did I make after high school? Far more than the jackals employed by the CCSD running the executive policy making offices and the math curriculum...proving the point that elitism on CCSD's part does not insure success but it does insure failure.

    So what, exactly, is the point of the Algebra 2 requirement, other than to establish an elitist public school system which dumps out as many high school students as it possibly can, before their graduations? The obvious goal is to cut the number of high school students, in order to maximize available funds and minimize the percentage of students who cannot pass the high school exit exams. If these students just disappear, like the lost boy living in the garage, the Clark County School District looks like it is doing its job.

    The Clark County School District is an abject failure in successfully completing the education of a huge percentage of the students. The Brookings Institution has obviously figured that out.

    Count the number of students in 5th grade this year. Count the number of students in 12th grade this year. You'll get an idea of how many students the clever bureaucrats at the CCSD make disappear. The problem, of course, is that the "disappeared" students end up unsuccessfully trying to enter the work force, or end up on food stamps or end up in Nevada's jails. Oh well, not CCSD's problem. That attitude on the part of CCSD is one of Clark County's principal problems as an employment center.

    No matter how good the new Superintendent's intentions, he's just one man struggling against an entrenched, lazy, indifferent machine. I'm sure he'll bail out in less than 4 years like all the others.

  3. We are a Republican state...they do not care about the people. Diversification is a liberal word and they hate that. Nothing in this state is getting done because Las Vegas has become damn near an old west lawless environment. The 'powers that be' here, are like a bunch of retards are walking around with a stupid grin burnt into their fake plastic faces while they dole out special interest money, award lucrative contracts to family members and give the casinos anything they want. You know, Las Vegas!

  4. Education does not just happen in schools. It begins at home -- solid family values, during pregnancy, at birth, the home environment. It is supported by the community and society. At five years old, when a child formally goes to school, the foundation must be there with all the necessary supports from both the family and society for schools to be successful. Any and all decisions should be predicated by "Is it good for the child?" and nothing else. These are the ideal conditions.

    This is not the case in Las Vegas -- in fact most anywhere. I have been in this district for over twenty five years fighting the demons that bedevil children, but the fight is getting harder and harder each year. Conducting home visits have become scary; calling the home over and over with nary a call back have become an exercise of futility; letters don't even get answered; leaving a note on doors were a waste of time. We try to make the children's lives as easier as we can at school. We provide breakfast, a shoulder to cry on, a help with homework, and emotional support as much as our own meager resource can provide -- in addition to teaching. What more can a teacher do?

    Unless everyone shoulders his share of the burden, the status quo is not going to change.

    We need everyone's help.

  5. I'm tired of people blaming the school district and teachers for racism and poverty.

    It is not the school districts job to solve these centuries old crimes. America needs to really invest in eliminating discrimination and disenfranchisement if it wants to make a significant change. More and more people in America are becoming working poor or worse not working at all. I hardly think this is because schools have failed America. I would even suggest it would be much, much, much worse if public schools were dead.

    To expect ANY teacher to make a real difference when faced with the laundry lists of societal problems that can influence a person's ability to learn - is asinine. I love my job. I love my students. I get to know them and I teach them to read. But every year I see more and more people getting more and more poor. The economy and lack of jobs created by our governor is affecting student learning. Families cannot eat.

    To spew in a blog about how it's the district's fault that a group is unemployed because of lack of education? Where are the parents? Where is the community? Did the GOP care when they kept Nevada's education system funded at dead last for more than a decade? Where were you when that person started to fail, did you give them a hand up?

    I would love to have the power to save everyone I meet. I try, sometimes too much. But I'm not Jesus. I don't walk on water. I cannot keep bigots from degrading children and their families. I cannot feed all the poor kids I know and their families. I cannot buy shoes and clothes for all the kids I know that need them. Our families are not having their basic needs met so they are failing school. And it's not surprising.

    Where are the jobs the GOP promised to put Nevadans back to work? Where is Nevada's gold going . . . it's selling at record prices?

    There are corporations and businesses and think tanks out there that are PAID full time to write in blogs like this about how terrible teachers and schools are, but I ask you this, what would our communities look like if there were no more public schools. Do we really need to read propaganda that has stemmed from ALEC and NPRI telling our communities that schools are evil and teachers are all criminals that steal money from tax payers? This hate against schools and teachers has got to stop.

    We get it - you want to kill our public schools. But society's problems would be much, much, much worse than they currently are if only people who could afford school - went to school. If people can read, they can do it because of a public school and a teacher like me. Schools do still make an enormous difference. They can't do it all. You might need to take some initiative and help out yourself if you notice a concern. There are thousands that need help right now.

    I'm tired of the hate. Someone needs to start saying something nice about teachers.

  6. Cynicalobserver:

    I understand your frustration and I would like to suggest you redirect that advocacy to the right direction.

    The schools are charged to teach children, first and foremost. Many blame us for accepting illegal immigrants. That is not our fault. Whoever comes to our doors, our responsibility is to educate them - legal or illegal. Blame INS.

    We can not teach those who are not there. We do our part by calling, home visits, letters home, asking neighbors, send attendance officers. If we are unsuccessful, we report truancy. Social Services too are overwhelmed. Blame the parents.

    Parents too are overwhelmed. They have to be out working - waiting by the phone. Casinos and businesses make them wait by the phone. Businesses schedule hours so that they do not have to pay benefits. Parents wait by the phone and work unholy hours - just to be able to work. Blame businesses? Their very purpose of being is to maximize returns!

    Casinos use advertisements to lure gamblers. People get hooked - parents too. They leave children unsupervised. No one helps them with homework or no one is concerned with their attendance. Who do you blame? Casinos? It's their business. Parents? It's your call.

    We cannot be INS, Social Services, Job providers, Parent Counselors, Social Conscience, etc. etc. To blame the schools for all these is a bit unfair, isn't it?

  7. Somehow we needed a study to determine this... The obvious is as illusive in LV as common sense.

  8. cnev comments @ 5:52am...

    ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW,
    Right there in black & white.
    you GET IT, cnev.
    Your post is RIGHT ON.

  9. Something to reflect on...

    A "School District" is a mirror image of the community it serves; as a whole, and each school individually...whether it's over in Summerlin, east near Nellis/Sloan, Black Mountain, Sunrise Mountain, WHEREVER.
    Look in the mirror. There's your "School District" right there.

  10. Here is your problem people. It's not education or diversity, so stop the belly-aching. The problem lies at the feet of our Politications, Unions, and Greed. Every year, the employees would yell Raise, Raise. If no raise, Strick, Welga we need more... etc. When you get a raise, the only one that makes money is the government and you are put into a higher Income Tax Bracket. Your higher tax goes to the government where they squander that and more. When you cannot give enough, they Print More Money. Stop the governments spending, and the Unions crying, chances are things will settle. I doubt that will ever happen, because of GREED.

  11. Part 1

    @ Teachers who commented:

    My father, who would now be 103 years old, and who had a PhD in economics, told me that Lyndon Johnson fundamentally changed the U.S. economy when he massively raised taxes to fund the Viet Nam War, and when he created the Medicare payroll tax. He said that the result of the new taxes forced mothers into the work place, so that both parents could work to pay the family's basic bills. Two parents working became the norm approximately 40 years ago.

    The pervasive problem in urban public school districts, and their teachers, never adjusted their thinking to the reality which the new "working mother" economy created. The nuturing stay at home moms of the 1950's rarely exist.

    Kindergarteners will come to school not knowing their alphabet or how to count. Exhausted parents will not sit and do homework with their young children, let alone fight with their teenagers to make sure homework and special project are done.

    The collapse of the two parent family, and the collapse of economy leading some parents to have to work two jobs has simply made things worse, in terms of the disconnect between reality and what teachers and principals expect from parents.

    To be successful, school districts need to face and deal with a permanent reality created 40 years ago. Parents are not involved in their children's education, nor will the vast majority of them ever be.

    Instead of allowing their employees to whine about lack of parental involvement, school districts need to set realistic educational policy based on the assumption that there will be no parental involvement and that no homework will be done. Whatever is taught and learned in the class room will be the beginning and the end of what students learn. The Clark County School District clearly refuses to face the reality of the now 40 year old "working mother economy", and to set its teaching policies accordingly. Students will only learn what they are taught in class. Parents will not help with homework.

  12. Part 2

    The idea of teachers and principals taking 100% responsibility for what student learn is nothing new. In the early days of public education, in the 1800's, most parents were illiterate. In the late 1800's and early 1900's America was flooded with immigrants where parents could not speak or read English, and never learned the language. Yet somehow school systems and teachers in places like New York and Chicago coped, and a well educated class of children of immigrants thrived.

    Las Vegas has one elementary school where the Principal understands what her responsibilities are, and those of her teachers. Her students are among the poorest of the poor. At that school, parents are not expected to become involved in their children's education. The Principal and the teachers take 100% responsibility for educating the school's students. That attitude is what the Clark County School System needs to adopt, for all of its schools and all of its teachers.

    Delusional teachers whining about lack of parental involvement, and parental assistance, like we see on these comment boards are the heart of the Clark County School District's failure to educate its students.

  13. Just yesterday, I received in the mail a summary of my daughter's high school, including demographics test scores as compared to the district and the state. They were, to put it lightly, horrible.

    From said report, her school and the district:

    Dropout rate: 6.5%/4.8%
    Reading Meets Standards: 69%/49%
    Writing Meets Standards: 56%/75%
    Math Meets Standards: 38%/53%
    Credit Deficiency (kids lacking credits to grad): 41%/22%

    Sad picture no matter how you look at it. Not to draw correlation/causation, because there isn't enough information to do so, here are the demographics:

    Male: 54%/52% Female: 45%/49%
    Top 3 by race, hispanic 67%/42%, black 15%/12%, white 14%/32%

    So, I had the discussion with my two kids last night, asking for their opinions on why scores are low, why so many kids drop out, etc. Their biggest observation was that kids didn't see the value of education unless it was trade-based. All of their male friends want to do construction or work on cars, and their female friends all want to start families, find a man to take care of them, or deal cards.

    This city--more specifically, the people living in it--just don't seem to see the benefit of education. They don't see the money or opportunities for a better life that comes from it, because there seems to be little evidence of it around. The role models here are entertainers...aunts and cousins are blackjack dealers making decent scratch, or career housekeepers or asphalt layers with steady work and decent bennies...the primary and higher education systems are usually only discussed in negative terms.

    It's a chicken/egg problem: no education, because the desire isn't there...the desire isn't there because the opportunities don't exist...the opportunities don't come around because there's no education.

  14. Why are the schools expected to be parents? The schools should expel the kids who waste the schools time, not spend more time "looking for them." The regular schools should call the social workers and work on the kids who have parents and show up. There are alternative schools for kids who have "family problems."

    Let's rejoin the real world and come out of the liberal dream land.

  15. Oh and the cyn obs history is wrong. His PhD must have come from UNLV.

  16. What a joke all of these "educators" on this board are. Excuse after excuse. Blame the kid, blame the parents blah blah blah.
    We should fire every teacher if we must.

    NYC schools are riddled with corruption, greed, incompetence, etc etc yet those kids outperform our kids on EVERY level. Is your claim that kids in Vegas have worse homes/parents than the kids in NYC? 50% of the populous of NYC get's a handout from the government. 80% of babies born in Brooklyn are born on medicaid. The Bronx is the poor county in the country. You think english as a second language creates problems here think what they go through there. Why do the kids in NYC perform better than Vegas kids, simple, it's because they have better teachers.

    We graduated 47% of our kids on time last year. It's unacceptable. Fire these teachers/administrators and find some who can teach, inspire, lead, work hard, and accomplish goals to replace them. Clearly our teachers are failing our kids and we should stop giving them our tax dollars until they prove they deserve them.

  17. In this case its not the teachers or the school system its the parents. However i also don't see spending tons more on education if the parents and the kids don't participate.

    Lets face it. educating your kids is a hands on proposition and the people in vegas think its someone elses problem. Chances are if the parents are uneducated the kids will be too. More money for education will never fix this.

  18. Blame blame blame, no accountability? The Clark County School district must enforce rules so the few that could cause problems to the many that study are kept away. Some kid has bad parents home trouble etc is not the schools' job to solve. School is to teach, students go to learn. Disruption by others is not fair to those students.

    Las Vegas is unique and if you had 50% holding PHD's living here it would not change much. It is just not really viable to think Vegas is a academic city like Boston or Berkeley or Dartmouth NH, Ivory league we are not so why try to fake it.