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Las Vegas’ unemployment rate tops 33 percent in April

Updated May 27, 2020 - 6:56 pm

Las Vegas’ unemployment rate shot past 33 percent last month amid sweeping business closures sparked by the coronavirus pandemic, a new report shows.

Southern Nevada’s main financial engine, tourism, effectively shut down over fears of the virus, turning the Strip into a virtual ghost town. An estimated 168,800 people worked in leisure and hospitality last month, down 43 percent from a year earlier, and 79,700 worked in retail, down 26 percent, according to figures released Wednesday by the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation, or DETR.

All told, the Las Vegas area lost more than 200,000 jobs from March to April, putting its unemployment rate at a jaw-dropping 33.5 percent — up from just 4 percent in April of last year, the department reported.

Gov. Steve Sisolak ordered casinos and other Nevada businesses closed in March to help contain the virus’ spread. Restaurants, retailers and others were allowed to reopen earlier this month, albeit with limitations, and casinos, Las Vegas’ economic lifeblood, are scheduled to be allowed to reopen June 4.

But the new jobless numbers show the financial carnage Las Vegas has faced the past few months: After starting 2020 on strong footing following a long crawl back from the Great Recession, much of Southern Nevada’s economy was obliterated by the pandemic.

Further underscoring the city’s extreme job losses, its share of unemployed workers last month was more than double its peak during the recession a decade ago, when Southern Nevada was arguably the hardest-hit area of the country after the housing bubble burst.

Daniel Ponsky, a 45-year-old bartender who moved to Las Vegas a year ago from Southern California, said he lost two jobs — one at Sahara Las Vegas, another in a restaurant at the Four Queens — on the same day in March.

It was “absolutely jaw-dropping” to see Las Vegas’ powerful tourism industry grind to a halt virtually overnight, he said, adding his “new job” is trying to get his unemployment benefits processed.

He has not received any money from the state and used savings to pay rent and all of his bills, he said. But he has depleted those funds to the point that he can’t make those payments now.

The stress has taken its toll. Ponsky said he feels nauseated calling DETR every day, he gets consistent headaches, and he’s not eating properly.

Angel Vasquez, a 47-year-old self-employed Spanish interpreter who lives near Las Vegas’ Chinatown area, said his work evaporated in March as the pandemic started wreaking havoc on the economy.

Federal stimulus funds helped him pay rent and bills, but that money is basically spent now, he said.

Three Square food bank has been operating 20 drive-thru sites per week in the Las Vegas Valley to distribute free food to the needy during the pandemic. The group figured about 250 cars per day would show up at each site, according to Chief Operating Officer Larry Scott.

Instead, an average of around 1,100 cars arrived over a three-hour period daily at a few of the sites, while an average of some 500 cars went to the other locations, he said.

“The demand was far, far greater than anything we had anticipated,” Scott said.

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

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