LAS VEGAS -- A think tank report issued Wednesday ranked Las Vegas as having one of the 20 weakest economies among the nation's 100 largest metropolitan areas.
The study from the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., based on the final quarter of 2011, is consistent with similar findings that are being reported this week by the 8NewsNow I-Team as part of its special series, "Game Changers: Fixing the Economy."
Brookings reported that the nation's economic recovery, while slow, "may be picking up speed" with February representing the third straight month the economy added more than 200,000 jobs. But metro areas hit hardest by the housing crisis, including Las Vegas, are among those continuing to experience weak economic recoveries.
Las Vegas also had another characteristic shared by weak-performing cities: losses of government jobs. A small increase in state government jobs in Southern Nevada was more than offset by a 3.5 percent decline in local government positions over the final quarter of 2011. Las Vegas, along with metro areas in California and Florida that were also hit hard by the housing market collapse, also continued to have among the nation's highest unemployment rates.
Of the nation's 100 largest metros, 65 by the end of last year fully recovered the economic output they lost during the Great Recession. But Las Vegas was one of only six metros that had recovered less than a quarter of their lost output. Las Vegas, along with Modesto and Stockton, Calif., were also the only three metros whose housing prices remained more than 60 percent below peak levels.
A companion report also released by Brookings Mountain West, a collaboration of the think tank and UNLV, identified Phoenix and Boise, Idaho, as two other Intermountain West cities that also had housing market collapses but have managed quicker recoveries than Las Vegas. Brookings defines the Intermountain West as the states of Nevada, Arizona, Idaho, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico.
Brookings Mountain West stated that the housing market in Las Vegas "can't seem to turn around."
The good news for Las Vegas is that it experienced job growth in each of the last four quarters, with employment growth rates accelerating in October through December. Las Vegas also had the region's largest unemployment rate decrease in 2011. But its double-digit unemployment rate remained the largest in the region. Las Vegas had a 13.1 percent unemployment rate in January, nearly five percentage points above the national average.
Las Vegas had economic output growth of six-tenths of 1 percent in the final quarter of 2011, but that was less than half the growth enjoyed in Utah's metros.