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Las Vegas, Nevada unemployment rates dips slightly

A Friday report on Nevada’s jobs market told a familiar story.

The latest numbers from the state Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation show stubbornly high jobless rates, anemic job growth and a shrinking labor force – in other words, the jobs climate hasn’t changed much in recent months.

Unemployment in the Las Vegas Valley fell to 12.1 percent in March, down from 12.2 percent in February. Statewide, joblessness dipped to 12 percent, down from 12.3 percent. Though the declines were slight month to month, unemployment was down more substantially year over year. In March 2011, the rate was 13.7 percent locally and 13.6 percent statewide.

Bill Anderson, the employment department’s chief economist, said a smaller labor force drove most of the decline.

“The drop is partly due to discouraged workers who have simply given up looking for work,” Anderson said. “Nevertheless, the news is not all bad. The labor market is showing some positive signs of recovery.”

The state’s labor force declined by 22,600 people, or 1.6 percent, to 1.36 million. Las Vegas lost 18,800 workers, for a decline of 1.9 percent. The local labor force stood at 977,100 people in March.

On the up-side, employers added more jobs than expected in the month. In the first quarter, the state added 8,300 more jobs than it did in the same period a year earlier.

Las Vegas was the only Nevada city to gain jobs year over year in March, with an improvement of 2,100 positions. Sectors adding positions statewide include mining, financial services, professional and business services, health care and leisure and hospitality. Education stayed flat, while construction jobs declined.

The average work week dropped to 34.2 hours in March on a rolling 12-month average, down from 34.3 hours in the last report. That’s important because employers generally increase work hours before they add staff.

Nevada’s total personal income increased in the past seven quarters through 2011, though.

Anderson said the national economy would need to pick up before joblessness in Nevada will improve appreciably.

“As we’ve noted previously, it became quite apparent during the most recent recession that Nevada’s economic fortunes are very much tied to the U.S. economy,” Anderson said. “For the state’s modestly improving labor market to continue to strengthen, underlying fundamentals in the U.S. economy must be favorable. Recent evidence does point to improvements in the national labor market, despite month-to-month volatility. For instance, after plummeting during the recession, the number of individuals reporting that they have remained employed in the current and previous months has been trending noticeably higher nationwide.”

Bill Lerner, a principal of Las Vegas financial research company Union Gaming Group, said in a note to investors that the unemployment report signals little hope of significant improvement any time soon in business for locals casinos.

“The drop in the unemployment rate is encouraging and a positive sign for the overall improvement in Nevada’s economy,” Lerner wrote. “However, out-migration and a declining work force continue to influence monthly employment metrics. Furthermore, job growth, wage growth and housing metrics in the Las Vegas metropolitan area continue to remain lackluster and will present some challenges for the local casino operators for some time.”

Nevada seasonally adjusts state rates, but doesn’t have the data to adjust local rates. Unadjusted, Nevada’s rate was 11.9 percent in March.

Nationally, unemployment was 8.2 percent in March. Nevada has led the nation in joblessness since May 2010. California ranked No. 3 in March, with a jobless rate of 11 percent.

Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at jrobison@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4512. Follow @J_Robison1 on Twitter.

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