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Las Vegas jobless rate 2nd-highest among large metro areas

Updated June 30, 2021 - 4:22 pm

Las Vegas’ jobless rate has shrunk dramatically since the early chaos of the pandemic but remains among the highest in the nation, even as tourism bounces back.

An estimated 8.9 percent of the Las Vegas area’s workforce was unemployed in May, second highest among 51 metro areas with at least 1 million people, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Wednesday.

Los Angeles had the highest jobless rate among large metro areas at 9.1 percent, while Birmingham, Alabama, had the lowest at 2.6 percent.

The coronavirus outbreak kept people home and away from crowds for fear of getting infected and sparked huge job losses nationwide, devastating the tourism industry, the backbone of Southern Nevada’s casino-heavy economy. Las Vegas’ unemployment rate, just 3.6 percent in February 2020, shot past 33 percent last April after Gov. Steve Sisolak ordered casinos and other Nevada businesses closed to help contain the virus’s spread.

With vaccines rolling out over the past several months, and daily life starting to return to normal after more than a year of pandemic-related restrictions and anxieties, tourism to Las Vegas has been climbing.

But Las Vegas’ economy — which relies on people traveling here, often by airplane, to eat, drink, gamble, party and network, often in close quarters and usually indoors — was crushed by the virus outbreak. And, as seen in the latest federal report, it’s still a way off from returning to pre-pandemic levels.

Some casinos remain closed more than a year after they were allowed to reopen from the state-ordered lockdown, and Las Vegas’ usually lucrative convention industry is only now beginning to re-emerge after the pandemic left groups holding gatherings online.

Southern Nevada is “exposed significantly” to sectors that rely on in-person gatherings, and as a result, “our economic recovery is really tied at the hip” to the recovery from the pandemic, UNLV economics professor Stephen Miller said in a presentation last week.

The pandemic, of course, isn’t over. Nevada on Wednesday reported 558 new coronavirus cases and three deaths, and, according to data from the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention, its seven-day case rate per 100,000 people is higher than any other state in the country.

Still, tourism has been rebounding, and the Strip, Las Vegas’ main financial engine, is noticeably busier than it was several months ago.

More than 3.5 million passengers flew in and out of McCarran International Airport in May, up more than double from January.

Overall, UNLV’s Center for Business and Economic Research predicts that visitor volume in Southern Nevada will climb 57 percent this year, following its 55.2 percent plunge in 2020, and that gambling revenue will rise 35.5 percent, after it fell 36.8 percent last year.

Contact Eli Segall at esegall@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0342. Follow @eli_segall on Twitter.

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