Study: It pays to live in LV

Las Vegans are among the nation’s wealthiest wage earners, according to a report from the federal government.

New numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, released Tuesday, put Las Vegas among big U.S. cities with the highest median household wage.

Las Vegas’ median household income in 2006 was $53,000 a year, good enough for No. 5 among cities with 500,000 people or more, the bureau’s statistics show.

The four cities ahead of Las Vegas were Seattle, San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose, Calif.

Pay in Las Vegas was up 10.7 percent from 2005, when the median household income was $47,863.

Brian Gordon, a principal in the Las Vegas economic-research firm of Applied Analysis, said the wage gains and Las Vegas’ high ranking come from higher living expenses and brisk growth in the resort sector, where more than 40,000 rooms are scheduled to come online in the next half a decade.

"Las Vegas is one of the most robust economies in the country," Gordon said. "There’s significant demand for employees given our economic growth, and the supply-demand equation appears to be placing upward pressure on incomes. And the cost of living has impacted pay scales across the board as employers are forced to pay competitive wages given the relative cost of housing and other expenses."

The higher pay also reflects the health of local companies, said Keith Schwer, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

"To the degree businesses are doing well, they are able to pay higher wages," Schwer said. "Generally, what happens is that there is a sharing in the benefits of a good economy. Good times mean the owners of businesses are doing better, as are their workers."

Yet the difference between local incomes and some cost-of-living indicators remains stark.

The median resale home in Las Vegas cost $276,500 in July, or more than five times the median income, according to data from real-estate research firm SalesTraq. The median price of a new home was $327,790, or more than six times the median income. Conventional lending guidelines advise buyers that they can afford a home loan about three times the size of their annual income, depending on how many other debts they have.

Schwer said the imbalance between salaries and living expenses could be causing slower population growth in Las Vegas. Before 2006, new residents of Clark County were turning about 7,000 driver’s licenses from other states in to the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles; that number has dropped to about 6,000 a month.

Overall, though, Schwer said the income data indicate that many Las Vegans are enjoying a relatively high standard of living.

"People with higher incomes tend to be healthier, they tend to be able to have more recreation and they’re more able to buy basic services and products, as well as discretionary services," he said.

Incomes in Las Vegas could continue to rise in coming years, as more than $30 billion in local resort development creates a continuing demand for workers.

"There is a demand for more employees, and the existing employment base falls short of those demands," Gordon said. "Employers will be required to attract workers from outside the market, and, assuming a shortfall exists, pricing (wages) will be one factor that must give way."

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