More leaving Las Vegas, but Nevada's population remains steady

CARSON CITY -- Rob McColley walked past the cluster of trucks at the U-Haul lot he manages in North Las Vegas and recalled a much different scene a few years ago.

During Southern Nevada's economic boom, so many people were moving to Las Vegas that they sometimes dropped off more trucks than the lot could handle, he said.

These days he sees about the same number of people moving in and out of Nevada.

"I'd say it's pretty even," he said.

McColley's observations are in line with his company's tracking. U-Haul's data show it helped move 2.2 percent more people into the state than out last year, and so far this year it has moved 1.6 percent more people out of state than in.

The relatively even stream in both directions is a marked change from the state's rapid growth during much of the decade. It also reinforces the state demographer's contention that Nevada's population is not falling, despite recent news reports and persistent rumors.

Jeff Hardcastle thinks the population is flat or inching upward, though his next state population estimate in January might show a slight decline.

Nevada's population has not fallen since the 1890s.

"Right now I don't see anything definitely saying the population is declining," Hardcastle said.

"In the past during recessions you could move to other places where there were jobs. This time there are not many jobs anywhere."

California, which generally contributes a third of all new Nevada residents, is suffering just as much as Nevada in the recession, he added.

In June, Nevada's unemployment rate was 12 percent and California's was 11.6 percent, ranking them fifth and sixth highest, respectively, in the nation.

Yet some Nevadans are looking to the Golden State for a fresh start.

At a North Las Vegas U-Haul rental lot, Scott and Donna Covert talked of how they moved to here from Los Angeles a year ago and had no luck finding work.

Now they're heading back to Southern California.

They came to Las Vegas because the cost of living was so much cheaper, but none of that matters if you're unemployed, he said.

Scott Covert, 42, said that he is disabled from a car accident and that his wife is recovering from a bout with cancer.

"It's really, really been tough," he said. "This town can chew you up and spit you out in a matter of months."

Hardcastle won't know for sure whether the state is losing or gaining residents until the end of the year when he prepares estimates for the new state population report.

He is not surprised that some people think the state is losing people because a "60 Minutes" report in April said it was. He wrote a challenge to the producers.

Also, Clark County officials in November said the number of occupied housing units had declined slightly.

But Hardcastle said that might be explained because some people are doubling up with other family members or friends to reduce their housing costs.

In his last estimate in January, Hardcastle found Nevada had 2,738,777 residents as of July 1, 2008. Of the total, 1,967,716 lived in Clark County.

The statewide increase over the previous year was 0.8 percent, compared with increases of 3.6 percent and 4.1 percent in the previous two years.

The U.S. Census Bureau at almost the same time put Nevada's July 1, 2008, population at 2,600,167, a 1.8 percent overall the year increase.

That made Nevada, which had been the fastest or second-fastest growing state for 20 years, the eighth-fastest growth state in the nation.

Hardcastle and the Census Bureau used different methods of estimating the population.

Part of the reason he thinks the state population might not be dropping is that many people still are moving to Nevada from other states.

In July, 5,875 people turned in their out-of-state driver's licenses to the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles as they secured Nevada licenses.

That isn't too far below peak levels of people turning in licenses, DMV spokesman Tom Jacobs said.

In fact, it is nearly 1,000 more people turning in licenses from other states than in November.

Trouble is, the state does not have records for the number of residents who left the state and turned in their Nevada licenses in other states.

Projections of state school enrollment show increases of less than 1 percent in each of the next two years, state schools Deputy Superintendent Jim Wells said.

Wells added that 13 of the state's 17 county school districts lost students last year, although generally the losses were very small.

At count day in 2008, the state had 422,112 students. About 3,000 more will be added this fall, and then again in 2010. Virtually all the additional enrollment is in Clark County.

Sharon Harvey, 34, a casino worker who came here from Bend, Ore., eight years ago, said she is fed up with high crime, underfunded schools and lack of water recreation.

She and her family are moving to Panama City, Fla., where they plan to open a couple of drive-through coffee stands.

Harvey said she soured on the area having no sense of community.

"It's too transient," she said.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at or 775-687-3901 and reporter Scott Wyland at or 702-455-4519.