CARSON CITY — No longer will Nevada and Las Vegas be places where schools become more crowded every week, and new convenience stores open doors every month to handle the influx of residents.
The old, pre-recession Nevada that led the nation for two decades in population growth is gone. The new Nevada will be more like the rest of America when it comes to population growth, according to state demographer Jeff Hardcastle.
Hardcastle on Wednesday released his 20-year projection for population growth in Nevada and its 17 counties. Clark County topped 2 million in his projections this year for the first time, but what is most striking about the estimates is the statewide annual growth projection of slightly less than 1 percent a year, growth that hardly is much higher than in the average state.
“We will still be growing, but it will be at a slower rate and driven more by natural increases, births over deaths, and not by immigration,” Hardcastle said.
He expects Nevada’s population will grow at a 9.6 percent rate over the current decade, just over the national 8.1 percent. In the first decade of the 21st Century, the state population grew by 35 percent.
The state population will grow by 529,323 people to 3,279,540 residents in 2032, or about 0.9 percent per year. That is based on Hardcastle’s 2012 population estimate of 2,750,217. This year the state has a population of 2,775,216
Las Vegas economist John Restrepo, who operates RGG Economics, said his own projections for Nevada are a little higher, about 1.5 percent a year annual growth for the next 20 years.
“He is a little more conservative than we are, but we aren’t going to see a 2 percent plus rate of growth based on how the economy is recovering.”
Restrepo said higher growth would be favored by businesses, but they can adjust to a lower but steady growth rate.
For cities and counties, a modest growth rate is always preferred since they can keep up better with the need for schools, roads, rates and electricity, he said.
What concerns him is that average workers are not receiving the pay increases their companies are reaping with an improving economy.
“The middle class is being left out,” Restrepo said. “They are not sharing in the recovery at the same rate as the wealthy.”
He said Nevada needs economic diversity and development that brings good wages. If Nevada depends on the gaming industry, then it might fall behind other states.
But Hardcastle sees gaming remaining the economic engine of Clark County in 2032.
Hardcastle made his latest projections using an economic model that looks at jobs and wages offered in each county, compared with the other counties in the state, and Nevada wages compared with the nation’s as a whole.
“In looking at Nevada compared to the rest of the country and surrounding states; Nevada lags behind in job growth,” Hardcastle said.
Nevada has regained only 27.9 percent of the jobs it lost in the recession, compared to 53.4 percent in California and 75 percent nationally.
Over the next 20 years, Carson City, Elko, Douglas County, Churchill and Nye counties will show modest growth, according to the estimates.
For example, the Nye County population, now 44,340, could hit 48,55 in 20 years, while Carson City’s population could reach 63,982, compared to the current 55,709.
The rural counties of Eureka, White Pine, Humboldt, Pershing, Esmeralda and Lander will experience drops in population, the demographer said.
Mining could remain strong, particularly if oil exploration and moves toward oil fracking succeed in Northern Nevada, but Hardcastle’s forecast is not optimistic. Gold prices have peaked and there have been layoffs in the mining industry, he said.
The state demographer’s office is part of the Nevada Small Business Development Center at the University of Nevada, Reno College of Business, and is funded by the Nevada Department of Taxation.
Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at email@example.com or 775-687-3901.