Updated February 6, 2019 - 6:07 pm
In several ways, Alex Weisz and Emma Gould illustrate who is moving to Nevada.
A lifelong Southern California resident in his early 20s, Weisz came to Las Vegas in July 2017 to start his career teaching Jewish education at Temple Sinai in Summerlin. His then-girlfriend and now fiancee, Gould, followed six months later, charmed by the Silver State’s lower cost of living and relief from congested interstates and roadways.
“I absolutely just fell in love with it. I like that it was kind of this small-towny vibe in a big city,” said Gould, a 22-year-old personal trainer. “It had everything that I grew up with in L.A. — all the stores, all the markets and whatever — but it was so much quieter, so much less intense than living in L.A. is.”
Nevada’s story is one intertwined with newcomers such as Gould and Weisz. U.S. Census Bureau survey data shows as of 2017 only 26 percent of the state’s nearly 3 million residents were born here, the smallest fraction of any state in the country.
And while people fled Nevada when the state’s economy took a nosedive during the Great Recession, domestic migration into the state has bounced back. Last year the Census Bureau crowned Nevada as the nation’s fastest-growing state, based on annual percentage increases in population.
The steady influx of newcomers spans decades and has left an indelible mark on the Las Vegas Valley, which has nearly tripled in population since 1990, said Robert Lang, executive director of Brookings Mountain West at UNLV.
“Southern Nevada is built by and for outsiders,” he said.
Some 644,000 people moved to Nevada from other states from 2013 through 2017, according to a Review-Journal analysis of census data.
For the most part these people are younger and more educated than the state’s population as a whole.
About 61 percent of newcomers were under age 40, while 53 percent of people living here in 2017 were that young. Among newcomers 25 and older, about 30 percent had college degrees, compared with the 25 percent of people living in Nevada in 2017.
“Younger and credentialed is what you hope to attract,” Lang said. “You’ve got your work life ahead of you, you’ll contribute to taxation, and you come with skills.”
As most Nevadans would probably guess, Californians lead the list of newcomers to the Silver State.
Departures from the Golden State accounted for more than one-third of the domestic migration into Nevada from 2013 through 2017. That was almost 245,000 people, more than double the combined total of immigrants from the next four states: Arizona, Florida, Washington and Utah.
By 2017, almost one in five Nevada residents was born in California.
Lifelong Bay Area resident Daniel Honchariw moved to Las Vegas in April 2016. The 32-year-old said he had long been frustrated with bumper-to-bumper traffic, high taxes and rising rents.
“I tell my California friends that in Nevada I pay half the rent for twice the space,” said Honchariw, a policy analyst for the Nevada Policy Research Institute. “I often refer to myself, and only half facetiously, as a California refugee. I felt I was escaping the harsh economic conditions of a different land.”
Almost all of the people who have moved to the Las Vegas Valley cited a lower cost of living, relief from congested cities and warm, sunny weather. Some 8,500 residents of Colorado moved to Nevada in 2017, about as many as the previous three years combined and second in number only to California.
Even in warmer Southern states, Las Vegas is alluring to people who feel overcrowded.
Tina Miranda, a single parent from Texas, said commuting at least three hours a day in Dallas ate into the time she could spend with her two daughters.
“It made it difficult to be a parent,” said Miranda, 46. “I was gone before they went to school, and by the time I got home, it was time to get supper cooked and then get them to bed.”
Miranda moved her family to the southern Las Vegas Valley in January 2017. Like many others, she appreciates the feel of living in a “little big city.”
“In Dallas you’re like a needle in a haystack,” she said. “Here I’ve made so many connections that I would have never dreamed of making.”
Jobs lure Nevadans away
While Nevada’s population is steadily growing, a large number of people have moved away.
Some 490,000 people left for other states from 2013 through 2017. Texas accounted for the biggest net loss, about 14,000 people.
Rachel Behnke’s family left Las Vegas in favor for a northern Austin suburb named Leander in June 2014. Behnke’s husband, Steven, 38, felt he lacked options to advance his career as a software engineer in Las Vegas, and the tech-friendly city in central Texas seemed like a natural fit.
“It’s like Silicon Valley and Seattle, but you can actually afford to live here,” said Rachel Behnke, 38. “It’s actually cheaper (to live) here than it is in Las Vegas. Food is cheaper. Electricity is cheaper. Gas is a whole lot cheaper.”
The local school system was another major draw. The Behnkes were wary of enrolling daughter Annabelle, now 7, in the underperforming Clark County School District.
“We just thought unless you live in the right neighborhood and go to the right school, your education will be below others,” Rachel Behnke said. “The school inequity was a big deal. We didn’t want to take that chance with my daughter.”
But while Texas accounted for Nevada’s biggest net loss of residents, the greatest number of residents moving to other states — more than one-fourth of all who left — headed west to California.
“California is the employment gold mine,” University of Southern California demographer Dowell Myers said. “There are many many more jobs, specialized jobs, higher-paying jobs, so you’re probably better off being in California for your career.”
Employment lured Las Vegas native Leah Tsui to Southern California in 2017. After earning a master’s degree in human nutrition from Drexel University in Philadelphia, Tsui made her move away from home permanent by taking a dietetic internship with the Department of Veterans Affairs in Los Angeles. Today the 25-year-old lives in Santa Monica and works as a nutrition counselor for athletes and business executives.
“SoCal is known for people being there for health and wellness, so here I feel I can be at the forefront,” Tsui said. “I would have not been able to find this opportunity in Las Vegas.”
Affordability remains key
Weisz, the relocated Californian, laughs when he recalls his living arrangements before moving to Las Vegas.
“My last apartment in Los Angeles was basically a box with a toilet,” he said. “It was a one-bedroom apartment, but there was no air conditioning. There were not pets allowed. There was no dishwasher. There was no washer or dryer even in the whole complex.”
After taking the job at Temple Sinai, Weisz moved into a high-rise luxury apartment overlooking the Las Vegas Strip. It had all the amenities he wanted, plus valet service, but rent cost only $25 more a month than his humble abode in California.
Last May, Weisz and Gould bought a three-bedroom home in Summerlin. It’s an investment in the couple’s future that would have had to wait for years in Los Angeles.
“That was a huge step for us. … Not just being able to get a cheap apartment but actually be able to make this really big adult investment in getting a home, without having to sell ourselves out in order to do so,” Gould said. “That definitely led us to be able to have that foundation and stability here that we would not be able to do in L.A.”