Little change seen in jobless numbers for Las Vegas and Nevada

If you’re waiting for unemployment to drop noticeably in Nevada and Las Vegas, you’ll have to be patient.

State and local jobless rates stayed steady from September to October, and unemployment is unlikely to change much in coming months as job growth evens out and businesses fret over economic uncertainty, experts said Friday.

First, about those rates. Friday numbers from the state Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation showed unemployment of 9.3 percent in October. That was down from 9.4 percent in September, and notably lower than 10.3 percent in October 2012.

The Las Vegas Valley’s rate stalled at 9.4 percent from September to October, though that was the lowest local rate for the month since 2008.

Still, sluggish jobless declines don’t mean the economy’s tipping back into a downturn.

The state’s labor market did add jobs in October, with payrolls growing by 7,400, including 4,800 new positions in Las Vegas. The city’s employers created 17,500 jobs year to year in October, for a 2.1 percent job growth rate.

With those new jobs, why didn’t unemployment drop? Part of it could be a simple statistical issue, said Steve Brown, director of UNLV’s Center for Business and Economic Research. The employment department gets its hiring numbers from phone surveys of households and businesses, and sometimes, the two sides say conflicting things. Federal and state economists will fix those discrepancies in the spring, when they adjust Friday’s early estimates.

More importantly, the city’s job growth is more balanced today, though that should mean slower improvements in the unemployment rate, said Brian Gordon, a principal in local research firm Applied Analysis. Consider that leisure and hospitality made up 19 percent of new jobs in the 12 months that ended in October. By contrast, the sector was behind 76 percent of job growth in the 12 months that ended in October 2011, early in the recovery. When the largest employment sector cedes expansion ground to other, smaller industries, the sector’s economic impact will drop as well.

“The growth that’s taking place is more balanced and more reflective of the overall economy, which suggests there’s some increased stability built into the latest employment trends,” Gordon said.

Besides gaming, the trade, transportation and utilities category, which includes retail, gained jobs in October. The category added 5,100 positions, well above the 700 that usually come online from September to October. Professional and business services, including employment agencies, advertising agencies and accounting firms, added another 1,200 jobs.

Bill Anderson, chief economist of the employment department, traced the improvement to retailers beginning to move inventory and buy marketing goods and services for the holiday season. Anderson said holiday hiring through the end of 2013 should at least match that of 2012, when Nevada’s employers added 10,400 seasonal jobs from September to December.

“While we are still below prerecessionary levels, this is good news for those who depend on holiday hiring for an opportunity to return to work or to supplement their income,” Anderson said.

Beyond the holiday, though, hiring will probably be relatively slow in coming months, as employers stay on edge about Washington’s cloudy fiscal outlook and the Affordable Care Act’s new mandates on employer-sponsored health insurance, Brown said.

“The level of uncertainty in the U.S. economy and the Southern Nevada economy remain really high,” he said. “At the national level, consumer spending has softened to some degree and consumer confidence has sagged. People are just discouraged about the economy, and about the way Washington is handling economic issues.”

Nevada’s jobless rate remained a full two percentage points above the U.S. rate of 7.3 percent. Nevada has led the nation in joblessness in every month but one since May 2010. Include discouraged workers who’ve quit seeking jobs and underemployed part-timers who would rather work full time, and the state has a 19 percent jobless rate.

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