Census: Clark County population increase leads Nevada’s growth

During a decade of massive growth, Clark County added more than half a million people and helped keep Nevada atop the list of fastest-growing states, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures released Thursday.

The state’s largest county added 575,504 of Nevada’s 702,294 new residents — accounting for four out of every five new residents since the 2000 census. Nearly half of those new residents were Hispanics, who now make up 27 percent of the state’s population, up from 20 percent a decade earlier.

"These latest census numbers reflect Nevada’s new face in the 21st century, one that is more diverse than ever before and with an even higher percentage of urban and suburban residents," Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., said in a statement.

MORE GROWTH, MORE POWER

With its population growth to 2.7 million, Nevada was awarded a fourth House seat in December based on the 2010 census.

The new district probably will be based in Southern Nevada, something the Nevada Legislature will determine when redrawing congressional district lines during the ongoing 120-day session.

The state is expected to end up with two Republican-friendly districts and two that favor Democrats.

Lawmakers also will redraw all of Nevada’s Assembly and Senate districts using the new census data. Democrat-heavy Clark County, home to seven out of every 10 Nevadans, stands to gain one Senate and two Assembly seats under reapportionment because of the population shift to the South. Those seats will come from the GOP-leaning North.

Some Northern Nevada lawmakers advocate expanding the 63-seat Legislature so they don’t lose seats, an issue that could get tied up in bargaining on the budget and other issues.

With the continuing population shift to Southern Nevada and the recent departure of powerful longtime Reno Sen. Bill Raggio, Northern Nevada will probably never again enjoy the political influence it once held, said Eric Herzik, a political science professor at University of Nevada, Reno.

"Clark County is the major player. It has been the past two decades, but leadership issues prevented them from realizing that power," he said. "Now they can."

HISPANIC INFLUENCE GROWS

In Clark County, the Hispanic population climbed from 22 percent to 29 percent, and six other counties now have Hispanic populations of at least 20 percent. In 2000, only Clark and Elko counties reached that number.

The fast-growing Hispanic population in Nevada — now one in four residents — signals a new political force in the state, said Fernando Romero, president of Hispanics in Politics.

"The Hispanic community got (Senate Majority Leader Harry) Reid re-elected," he said. "We got eight people in the Legislature."

There are now eight Hispanics — all Democrats — serving in the state Assembly, and Brian Sandoval, a Republican, is the state’s first Hispanic governor.

Many Hispanics didn’t support Sandoval, however, because of his conservative views, including support for a Arizona law that gives police more authority to arrest illegal immigrants.

Hispanics were a decisive factor in Barack Obama’s 2008 victory, making up 15 percent of the Nevada vote. They again accounted for 15 percent last year to help put Reid over the top, according to exit polls — although Reid said it might have been as high as 17 percent.

A CNN exit poll showed Reid captured two-thirds of the Hispanic vote last year. Hispanics make up 12 percent of Nevada’s registered voters.

Herzik noted that language barriers, lack of citizenship and other issues create a voter turnout gap among Hispanics.

"When that gap is overcome, Latino voters are very potent. I think Sharron Angle got a dose of that," Herzik said, referring to Reid’s defeated Republican opponent and her anti-immigration campaign.

More political pull for Hispanics in Nevada also means it’s easier to defeat any proposed legislation similar to the Arizona law, Romero said.

Several bills targeting illegal immigrants were proposed for this legislative session in Nevada, including one based on the Arizona law.

Among other minority groups, the non-Hispanic black population grew slightly to about 8 percent of the state population.

Non-Hispanic Asians were the fastest-growing minority, more than doubling their previous numbers to make up 7 percent of the population.

Meanwhile, non-Hispanic whites fell from 65 percent to 54 percent of state residents.

GROWTH THROUGHOUT THE STATE

With three of Nevada’s four largest cities, Clark County predictably dominated the state’s population growth by growing 42 percent.

Las Vegas grew 22 percent but was dwarfed by the growth of its neighbors, Henderson with 47 percent and North Las Vegas at 88 percent. Mesquite grew 63 percent.

The exception in Southern Nevada was Boulder City growth with less than half a percent, equal to a grand total of 57 more people.

Most of the state’s other counties added more people, as well. Washoe County, home to Reno and Sparks, grew by 24 percent. Nye County, 60 miles west of Las Vegas, grew 35 percent.

The fastest-growing county was Lyon County, home to the Fernley, which took home the title of fastest-growing city in Nevada. Lyon County grew 51 percent.

The new figures affirm the emergence of Lyon and Nye counties as bedroom communities of sorts to the Reno-Carson City area and Las Vegas, respectively, state demographer Jeff Hardcastle.

Fernley, about 30 miles east of Reno, more than doubled in size to 19,368 people. Fernley Mayor LeRoy Goodman attributed the growth to the new jobs created thanks to a large industrial park in the city and another 15 miles away along Interstate 80. Among the parks’ tenants are online retail giant Amazon.com and paint manufacturer Sherwin-Williams.

Fernley’s location near the interstate and railroad lines make it a prime location for industries who need easy access to major transportation routes, he said. About a quarter of the city’s jobs are in manufacturing, creating a more stable blue-collar economy, he said.

In most other parts of the state, however, the tourism industry is still feeling the effects of the worldwide economic downturn of the latter part of the decade.

Hardcastle said the new census numbers fall short in telling Nevada’s full story over the past few years.

"This is a decade-to-decade snapshot, so it is not necessarily picking up what has been happening the last three or four years," he said.

He has estimated the state’s population peaked with a July 2008 estimate of 2,738,733. Comparing the estimate against the new census, Nevada has lost about 38,000 people.

Whether that trend will continue or reverse if the state economy recovers remains to be seen, he said.

"It’s been a cliche to say this, but we are in uncharted territory now," Hardcastle said. "The next two to three years will probably tell us a different story of our population."

Review-Journal reporters Lynnette Curtis and Laura Myers and Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault contributed to this report. Contact reporter Brian Haynes at bhaynes@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0281.

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