LAS VEGAS -- When the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington, D.C., ranked the nation's 100 largest metro areas in September based on their industry mix and workforce education the Las Vegas metro area managed only a four-way tie for 84th.
Brookings lumped Las Vegas with 25 other metros found to have both an unfavorable industry composition and relative inability to match workers with the education levels available jobs require. Brookings found that these cities on average have had the hardest time fighting through the Great Recession.
"These metropolitan areas have a long-run structural problem related to a mismatch between worker education and occupational demand, and they have a short-term problem related to significant employment declines in their most prevalent industries," Brookings reported. "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 info faster growing industries like health care, professional services and clean energy.
"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."
Metro areas such as Washington, D.C., Boston and Madison, Wis., that ranked at the top of the list have had considerably lower unemployment rates than in Las Vegas and have also had less of a change in their jobless rates since the recession began. Top-ranked cities tended to have concentration of jobs in sectors such as oil and gas extraction, health care, high, tech, education and government.
Brookings found that on average unemployment rates were 2 percent higher in cities such as Las Vegas with vulnerable industries and high education gaps than in the top-ranked metros.
Las Vegas was singled out in the report for having a workforce at the beginning of the recession in 2007 that was heavily concentrated in "two extremely fragile industries" -- hotel accommodation and specialty trade contractors in the construction industry.
Construction shed 1.7 million jobs nationally from 2006 through 2009, while industries requiring higher education added jobs in those years, Brookings reported. This included professional, scientific and technical services (148,000 jobs), educational services (191,000), hospitals (244,000) and ambulatory health care services (505,000).
Las Vegas ranked only 94th in the strength of its industry composition based on a formula that measured the job growth of its major industries from 2007 to 2009, when the Great Recession swept the nation. During those years Las Vegas experienced a 6.2 percent drop in what Brookings coined as predicted industry job growth, which estimates the growth of a metro area's labor force in its core industries based on national averages for those industries. Metros nationally averaged a 4.9 percent decline.
The Las Vegas metro area also ranked 55th in its ability to match workers with jobs based on the education required.
When the report was released Brookings told the Las Vegas Sun that from the beginning of the recession in December 2007 through 2009 the metro area suffered a 41 percent loss of building construction jobs versus 30 percent nationally and a 9 percent decline in resort industry jobs compared with a 5.8 percent loss nationwide.