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Nevada unemployment falls to six-year low in May

It’s like it’s 2008 all over again.

Nevada’s labor markets posted some of their best numbers in six years, as job gains in construction, hospitality and professional services pushed down unemployment in May.

Statewide joblessness fell to 7.9 percent, for its first reading below 8 percent since September 2008, the state Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation reported Friday.

Joblessness in the Las Vegas Valley also came in at 7.9 percent, up from 7.4 percent in April. Local rates are not seasonally adjusted, so local numbers can be more volatile and difficult to compare to state figures.

But across the board, new jobs mean fewer people out of work.

Retail added 6,000 jobs year-over-year in Las Vegas, for a growth rate of 6.1 percent. Construction employment grew by 2,500 positions, or 6.3 percent. Leisure and hospitality created 5,800 jobs, expanding 2.2 percent. And professional and business services gained 4,300 jobs, for growth of 3.8 percent.

“The distribution of where the jobs are coming from is wider than we’ve seen in the past. That suggests there’s increased stability, and a broader economic recovery taking place,” said Brian Gordon, a principal in local research firm Applied Analysis. “Growth isn’t related simply to our core tourism industry.”

In all, the Las Vegas Valley added 25,900 jobs year-over-year in May, for job growth of 3.1 percent. The national growth rate is averaging between 1 percent and 1.5 percent in 2014.

Statewide, May’s jobs base of nearly 1.22 million was the highest reading since December 2008, said Bill Anderson, chief economist of the employment department. And the number of employers, as measured by participation in the state’s Unemployment Insurance Program, reached 59,300 in the first quarter — 3.1 percent higher than the same period a year earlier, and the biggest gain since the first quarter of 2008.

May’s numbers came on top of big gains in April, when the state’s jobless rate fell half a percentage point, from 8.5 percent to 8 percent. That was its biggest decline in more than 30 years.

Still, even if things are getting better, they’re “not necessarily great,” Gordon said.

For one thing, Nevada ranked second for joblessness, lagging only Rhode Island’s 8.2 percent.

Also, include discouraged workers who’ve given up their job hunt and underemployed part-timers who’d rather have full-time work, and unemployment soars to an average of 17.4 percent statewide from the second quarter of 2013 to the first quarter of 2014, according to the latest numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Nationally, unemployment was 6.3 percent in May, though the gap between the U.S. rate and Nevada’s level was its smallest since August 2008.

Nevada’s jobless rate peaked at 13.7 percent in May 2010.

The May rate in California, an important feeder market for tourists and new residents, also trended well above average, at 7.6 percent.

Nor are wages rising as quickly as Anderson said he’d like to see.

Weekly statewide wages for the fourth quarter averaged $885, up 0.9 percent year over year. But inflation grew 1.2 percent in the same period, indicating that Nevadans are relatively less well off now, Anderson said.

Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at jrobison@reviewjournal.com. Follow @J_Robison1 on Twitter.

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