For 22 years, Keith Schwer, director of UNLV’s Center for Business and Economic Research, has been collecting data from the Department of Motor Vehicles on the number of driver’s licenses surrendered each month by out-of-state drivers moving to Clark County.
School administrators, economists, county planners, home builders and politicians use the data to track how many people are moving here. The numbers are both a source of pride and a measure of Southern Nevada’s rapid growth.
But because of changes associated with the federal government’s Real ID Program, the data may no longer be compiled after September.
In the past, the DMV has collected out-of-state driver’s licenses and issued new Nevada licenses while motorists wait.
Schwer has sent one of the center’s employees to count the surrendered driver’s licenses by state and then makes the information available on a monthly basis.
Under the Real ID program, however, DMV will punch the old driver’s license and return it to the new resident along with temporary papers from Nevada that will allow the person to drive until a permanent license is mailed.
DMV officials have not decided whether they want clerks to spend time entering data about new residents into the computer system when they issue new licenses, which will have 15 security features and can be used with facial recognition software,
“It’s just more data for the technicians to enter (in the computer),” DMV spokesman Kevin Malone said.
Analysts are unhappy about the prospect of losing the data.
“It just ticks me off,” said Dennis Smith, president of Home Builders Research. “It’s a huge loss, because even the government, the mayor, the (county) commission, all your politicians, quote that data. If it’s lost, I don’t know where we’re going to get (similar information).”
While the statistics don’t reflect the number of people moving out of Southern Nevada, the in-migration numbers are valuable because they provide 20 years of data for making “apples-to-apples” comparisons and tracking trends, Smith said.
During 2005, before the real estate downturn, the average number of driver’s licenses from new Clark County residents were running about 7,000 a month. Over the past 12 months, the average dropped to 6,000.
Back in the 1990s, Schwer saw a big increase in Californians relocating to Southern Nevada as the aerospace industry starting contracting and cutting jobs.
Another time, the center noticed a big increase in men coming from Oregon. Schwer determined that foreign immigrants were moving to Oregon because it was easy to get an Oregon driver’s license. Many of the immigrants were then moving to Nevada and replacing their Oregon driver’s license.
In March, 1,673 of the 5,378 drivers who came to the DMV for Nevada licenses came from California.
“It’s important for us to know where our new residents are coming from,” said Monica Caruso, spokeswoman for the Southern Nevada Home Builders Association.
Builders use the data so they can focus their advertising and marketing on the biggest feeder markets, Caruso said.
In addition, builders use the data to decide when to get approvals needed for new communities, she said.
John Restrepo, owner of Restrepo Consulting Group, compiles data for real estate developers, resort developers and state and local governments. He said it would be unfortunate if DMV stops providing data on out-of-state licenses.
“It’s a hole in the data,” Restrepo said. However, he added, “there won’t be babies dying in the street.”
The Census Bureau takes data from the Internal Revenue Service, and provides yearly data about net in-migration changes, Schwer said. But that information isn’t available until eight months after the year ends.
Schwer compares Southern Nevada to a race-car driver, who needs to react quickly to changes to drive safely at fast speeds.
“The faster the economy grows, the more important it is to know something is going to go wrong (quickly),” Schwer said.
Schwer said Clark County schools in particular need recent data to keep up with growth.
“In September, they’ve got to have a room and teacher in front of all those little eager kids that have showed up,” he said.
Rick Baldwin, coordinator of demographics and zoning for the school district, said he doesn’t use driver’s license data to make projections. But Baldwin uses the license data as “checks and balances” to confirm the validity of projected numbers.
“Definitely, it would be very unfortunate if we didn’t have that data any longer,” Baldwin said.
State demographer Jeff Hardcastle also likes to have the information, but he has not started collecting driver’s license data from other counties in Nevada.
Schwer said he has been trying to find an official in DMV to make his argument for continuing to collect driver’s license data, but officials keep referring him to others in the department.
Contact reporter John G. Edwards at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0420.