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Waiting for a recovery

The four-year economic contraction Nevadans have endured was borne out by two more reports Tuesday.

First, the U.S. Census Bureau released data showing Nevada led the nation in income decline in 2010. Real median household income, adjusted for inflation, plunged 11.9 percent to $51,525.

Second, the Clark County School District reported that enrollment for the current school year fell by more than 1,700 students to just above 308,000. It was the second enrollment drop in three years for the country’s fifth-largest public school system, which had nearly tripled in size in the two decades prior to the recession.

Neither report was surprising. Nevada also has the country’s highest unemployment and foreclosure rates, major indicators of economic distress.

There are some bright spots in this dark picture. Nevada’s household income is still above the national average, ranking 21st out of the 50 states, said UNLV economist Stephen Miller. Visitor volume and hotel occupancy are increasing in Southern Nevada, showing a growing demand for the Strip’s attractions. And the school district, which once poured so much attention and resources into managing growth, can keep its focus on educating a relatively stable enrollment.

But while statewide sales tax collections are slightly up, tourist spending is down. Most Nevadans fortunate enough to be working have seen their wages stagnate and their purchasing power erode. Jobs remain the salvation for the state’s ailments, especially housing, but there is precious little hiring.

With so many signs that Nevada is still vulnerable to even worse economic conditions, this latest news begs a question: How in the world can anyone think about increasing the tax burden of a population that is still suffering so greatly?

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