Nevada unemployment rate ticks down to 9.5 percent

Hey, you.

Yeah, you. The one who gave up looking for work months or years ago.

It’s getting safer for you to jump off of the sideline and into Nevada’s jobs game.

More than a thousand of your discouraged compadres — perhaps with some new residents — entered the state’s labor force from April to May, and the unemployment rate still dropped from 9.6 percent to 9.5 percent, reaching its lowest level since 2008, the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation said Friday. That means businesses created more jobs than there were people who started looking for work.

In fact, May was the fourth- straight month of increases in the number of Nevadans rejoining the labor pool. After hitting a 2012 high of 18,000, the ranks of discouraged workers dropped to 13,000 last month. And even as you’ve streamed into the market, statewide joblessness has retrenched from a December rate of 10.2 percent.

Bill Anderson, chief economist of the employment department, said fewer discouraged workers are “a reflection of what will hopefully be a more sustainable recovery.”

It also signals there are opportunities you should “maybe try to take advantage of,” added Brian Gordon, a principal in local research firm Applied Analysis.

If you want in on it, we can tell you where you might want to look.

Of course, you have your usual suspects: Leisure and hospitality added 3,000 jobs year over year in May, for 1.1 percent growth. Education and health services grew by 2,100 jobs in the same period, expanding 2.8 percent. And professional and business services, which includes administrative support and technical work, gained 4,700 jobs, good enough for 4.4 percent growth. Even construction had a hiring boost, with 700 new jobs, a 1.9 percent increase.

Steve Brown, an economics professor and director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at UNLV, said the new jobs were part of a broader business expansion across the West. A big increase in the number of visitors from California in particular has lifted the local economy.

But the news wasn’t all good.

The jobless measure that includes discouraged workers and underemployed part-timers was still at more than 19 percent in the first quarter, the latest available stats. But just as discouraged workers are making a comeback, so, too, are full-time hours. About 113,000 more Nevadans were in full-time jobs in May than worked full-time in the depths of the recession, Anderson said, though the state has gotten back just half of the full-time jobs it lost in the downturn.

That shift from part-time to full-time work is good news because it could mean companies are getting ready to bring on even more employees, Gordon said.

Now, remember, as you go back to pounding the pavement, there will be others alongside you trying to grab their share of an improving economy. If job growth slows in any single month, the unemployment rate could stop dropping — maybe flatten out, or even tick up. If that happens, take heart: It’s perfectly normal for unemployment rates to bounce around in a recovery, and one month doesn’t make a trend. Besides, more people in the labor force could hint at population growth, which helps housing sales and contributes to higher consumer spending, Gordon said. That, in turn, could translate into job growth at least through the end of 2013.

If the national and worldwide economies stay on their current tracks, there is no reason to think leisure and hospitality will stop adding positions. It’s also likely there will be even more professional and business services jobs, as companies that cut administrative and support staff to the bone during the recession bring back some of those jobs to help with improving sales.

And — you probably gave up on this ever happening — construction could come on strong, with thousands of new jobs. Housing permits nearly doubled in the past year, and lots of work is planned or under way on the Strip, from Caesars Entertainment’s Linq retail project next to the Flamingo to the 3,500-room Resorts World Las Vegas on the old Stardust site.

Construction dropped from about 12 percent of local jobs in 2006 to roughly 4 percent now, Gordon said. The national average is 5 percent, and new projects across Las Vegas mean there is room for construction’s share of jobs here to rise to around the national average. That could translate into just fewer than 8,000 new building jobs here. That doesn’t start to replace the 75,000 construction jobs the city lost in the downturn, but getting all of those positions back just “isn’t in the cards” anyway because that growth wasn’t based on true demand, Gordon said.

Nevada’s overall job growth should stay at around 2 percent in coming months, right where it has been in the first half of 2013. If that expansion rate doesn’t sound promising, consider that Nevada ranked No. 13 for job growth in May, and No. 6 in April.

It’s just the kind of slow, steady improvement that is sustainable for the long haul.

“When you look at historical boom periods of employment growth in Las Vegas, they were generally tied to one-time, unsustainable economic expansions,” Gordon said. “We’re thinking about multiple multibillion-dollar casinos driving substantial construction employment, and contributing to tremendous growth in leisure and hospitality employment. Today’s growth is taking place in the face of relatively low investments in the community, and ultimately, they’re projects that pencil in today’s environment. And so the growth has generally been organic, as opposed to being sourced to one-time investments.”

And that means when you finally do land that job, it will be one you’re more likely to keep than anything you had during the boom.

Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at jrobison@review journal.com or 702-380-4512. Follow @J_Robison1 on Twitter.