Blame it on a blip: Las Vegas, state unemployment figures barely budge

Blame it on a statistical blip.

Nevada’s jobless rate didn’t yield an inch in August, even as the jobs market improved markedly. Employers added 11,200 jobs from July to August, the best single-month gain since April 2005.

Yet, unemployment stayed level month to month at 9.5 percent, the state Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation reported Friday. The Las Vegas rate was 9.6 percent, down from 9.7 percent in July.

Almost every major economic sector added jobs in August. The exception? Financial services, which cut 100 positions.

If you’re trying to figure out how employers could go on a hiring binge and not budge the jobless rate, consider how the government tracks the numbers, said Bill Anderson, the employment department’s chief economist. Federal and state officials get their numbers, which are estimates, from separate phone surveys of households and businesses. And sometimes, the two disagree, Anderson said.

“Over time, the two measures will trend together. The more jobs you get, the lower the rate goes,” Anderson said. “But in any given month, you can get conflicting signals.”

The government will revise its data in spring for a clearer picture.

Even with preliminary numbers, though, that picture is brighter than it’s been in most recent years.

For starters, joblessness was well below its levels in August 2012, when unemployment was 11 percent statewide and 11.4 percent locally.

Plus, though summer has been volatile — July brought the biggest statewide drop in jobs since 2009 — it’s still been the best summer for hiring since 2005. Nevada’s employers added 7,900 jobs from June through August. What’s more, Nevada had 25,200 more jobs in August than it had a year earlier, including 22,200 more jobs in Las Vegas. And that 1.9 percent statewide growth rate is higher than what half of other states are reporting.

In the first eight months of the year, statewide job counts grew 22,300.

In the early part of 2013, at least, construction was the biggest winner. Complete counts from the first quarter showed 4,700 new building jobs statewide, the most of any major sector and better than the 3,900 jobs added in leisure and hospitality. Part of building’s resurgence came from a revitalized housing market. Housing prices jumped 22.8 percent in the second quarter, the biggest gain of any state, according to the Federal Housing Finance Administration. That’s helped drive housing starts, which were up 32 percent year over year in the first seven months of 2013.

Nevada’s job increases in general have come from a mix of macroeconomic factors, from improved housing to sustained record highs in visitor volumes, Anderson said.

“When you put it all together, it translates into an economy that’s far from booming, but that is at least moving forward at a stable pace,” he said.

That steady growth rate will likely mean only small improvements in the job market through the end of the year and into 2014. Nevada should finish 2013 with about 23,000 more jobs than it had in 2012, Anderson said. Expect another 25,000 new jobs in 2014, and 30,000 more in 2015, though the employment department will soon update those projections.

“We fully expect the unemployment rate to continue to ease over the next year,” Anderson said. “We might see a moderation in the pace of decline year over year, but we’re quite confident the jobless rate will trend down.”

In all, 133,000 Nevadans were unemployed and looking for work in August, down from an average of 192,000 in 2010. Include discouraged workers who quit seeking jobs and part-timers who’d prefer full-time work, and the state’s jobless rate averaged 19 percent in the second quarter.

The work force shrank in August, dropping 9.8 percent year over year to 1.37 million. That indicates more people are leaving the state or giving up their job hunt than are flowing into the labor pool.

The U.S. unemployment rate was 7.3 percent in August. Nevada has led the nation for joblessness in nearly every month since May 2010. Illinois ranked No. 2 in August, at 9.2 percent. California’s rate was at 8.9 percent.

Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at jrobison@reviewjournal.com. Follow @J_Robison1 on Twitter.