Can Nevada Overcome Its Struggles and Find Success After Being Left Behind in the Recovery?

Pedro Alvarez never thought that his high school job delivering high-quality meals to rooms at the Tropicana Las Vegas would turn into a long-term career.

However, in a city that is known for its indulgence and luxury, providing room service to tourists along the Las Vegas Strip proved to be a stable and sometimes lucrative job for Alvarez for over 30 years.

But when the Strip shut down for over two months during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, Alvarez was among the tens of thousands of hospitality workers in Nevada who lost their jobs. Even after the hotel reopened, he was informed that the room service department had been discontinued, at least temporarily. Since then, he has been working in various positions such as concessions and banquets.

Finding full-time work has been an uphill battle for Alvarez. Nevada stands out as an anomaly in the pandemic recovery process. While the U.S. economy has rebounded and experienced steady job growth, Nevada has struggled to catch up.

While job numbers have been steadily increasing nationwide for more than two years, Nevada has consistently had the highest unemployment rate in the country. Currently, the state’s unemployment rate is at 5.4 percent, compared to the national rate of 3.6 percent; in Las Vegas, it stands at around 6 percent.

Nevada’s heavy reliance on gambling, tourism, and hospitality has made it particularly susceptible to economic downturns. During the pandemic, the shutdown of the Las Vegas Strip had a devastating impact on the state’s economy. In April 2020, Nevada’s unemployment rate reached a staggering 30 percent.

Although the situation has improved since then, with a 4 percent increase in employment over the past year, Nevada still has a long way to go to recover fully.

David Schmidt, the chief economist for the Nevada Department of Employment, Training, and Rehabilitation, stated, “We are seeing rapid job gains, but have unemployment that is higher than other states.”

Nearly a quarter of Nevada’s jobs are in leisure and hospitality, and international travel to Las Vegas has significantly declined, with a 40 percent drop since 2019. This includes a decrease in visitors from China, where the economy is slowing down, and the United Kingdom. Union officials estimate that there are about 20 percent fewer hospitality workers in the city compared to before the pandemic.

Governor Joe Lombardo acknowledged the state’s high unemployment rate and emphasized the need to diversify the economy and invest in workforce development and training. He pointed to promising developments like Tesla’s investment in a Gigafactory outside of Reno and plans for the relocation of the Oakland Athletics to Las Vegas as positive signs for economic growth and job creation.

Despite the challenges, the improving economy, both locally and nationally, could benefit President Biden’s chances in Nevada for the 2024 campaign. Dan Lee, a professor of political science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, stated that if the economy continues on its upward trajectory, it could work in favor of the incumbent.

However, there is a potential complication on the horizon. The Culinary Workers Union Local 226, representing 60,000 hotel workers, has been in negotiations for a new contract since April to replace the expired five-year agreement. The union may vote for a strike authorization this fall in an effort to pressure major hotels and casino companies, such as MGM Resorts International and Caesars Entertainment, for pay raises and more full-time job opportunities.

The culinary union, which played a significant role in helping Biden win Nevada in 2020, could pose challenges if the economic climate in the state remains uncertain. It estimates that around 10,000 of its members are still unemployed since the start of the pandemic.

Juanita Miles, a job seeker in Nevada, has struggled to secure stable employment. As a security guard, she held multiple gig jobs at hotels and restaurants for many years. However, when the pandemic hit, she realized the need to change her career path.

Miles expressed her willingness to take any job available, but finding something full-time and stable has been challenging. After some temporary positions, she started working as a part-time dishwasher at the Wynn Las Vegas, but eventually lost that job due to staff reductions. She then returned to working security, but felt increasingly unsafe during night shifts.

Recently, she interviewed for a job at a Walgreens with hopes of securing a position that pays $15 an hour. Although she knows that finances will still be tight, she remains hopeful for a better opportunity in the future.

For Mr. Alvarez, the prospect of returning to his beloved job at Tropicana seems uncertain. The hotel, which will be demolished to make way for the new Athletics baseball stadium, has left him concerned about his future in the industry. Throughout the pandemic, Alvarez worked multiple jobs to make ends meet and feared losing his home in North Las Vegas. However, he eventually found part-time work as a doorman at the Park MGM.

While the city and state are showing signs of progress, Alvarez hopes that the workers who have been severely impacted by the pandemic will not be forgotten.

The road to recovery for Nevada may be challenging, but with efforts to diversify the economy and investments in workforce development, there is hope for a brighter future. As the state navigates through these difficulties, it will be crucial to prioritize the needs of workers and ensure their well-being in the post-pandemic recovery.

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