As a former lifelong Californian, crossing the border into the Silver State was like going into the adult section of the video store after turning 18: It was allowed but there was still something forbidden about it.
That aura, of course, was intentionally created to entice visitors and laborers to spend their sinful cents here and drive the economy, and for a century it has worked. Las Vegas, Reno and all the truck stops and brothels in between are proof of that. Throw in construction, thanks to people getting sick of paying California prices but being too lazy to go very far (myself included), and we have the makings of a very successful state.
Or at least we did.
Enter the current recession and, like an amateur magician trying to yank the tablecloth from under the dishes, it all came crashing down. Sure there always will be gaming and building and mining and fornicating, but we can expect it never quite will be the same. A lot is said about the job potential of renewable energy, what with all the sun and wind in Nevada that can be harnessed and made into energy, but without someone with the real desire and ability — not just a bunch of lip service to make the tree huggers happy — that movement will take a long time. Time isn’t something unemployed Nevadans have.
We’re seeing a lot of the same rhetoric from candidates for office, current officeholders and so-called experts and leaders. It’s easy to say, “Create jobs now!” or talk about what jobs might come if we did this or that. Gubernatorial candidate Rory Reid says to strengthen the schools to brighten the economy and create jobs now by spending money on projects that create jobs now. And don’t forget about supporting tourism and clean-energy technology.
Fellow candidate Brian Sandoval’s ideas are equally vague and repetitive. He says keeping the state’s taxes low will create new the diversity we need. Exactly how that will happen isn’t really important, just believe that it will.
Specificity from any candidate is impossible because no one has a real answer. The reason is that there isn’t one. Perhaps my opinion has succumbed to forces it cannot control, but maybe the jobs formerly held by now-unemployed Nevadans never really existed. Perhaps they were mirages in the desert that evaporated after drinking a mouth full of sand.
When I sat down to write this little diatribe, my intention was to try to come up with a few realistic and a few humorous ideas for jobs the state could create. But as I wrote, it occurred to me that an economy is not created by a single person and no single person can save it. The president and Congress can use their money to create a few jobs, but it really takes many people coming up with many ideas to make things go.
Nevada’s boom was fueled by construction jobs and cheap housing. The house-building jobs dried up and who knows if the people who bought the cheap houses ever had jobs — we all know the mortgage lenders didn’t care if they did. Now that Nevada’s version of the Gold Rush is over, the job-to-population ratio is just going back to equilibrium and we’re getting a true idea again of what Nevada’s capacity is.
If someone can figure out a way to permanently expand the state’s job capacity to fit its new population, more power to them. But as one of those people who caught the tail end of the boom, I’m going to abide by the “last one in, first one out” theory.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to work on my escape plan.
Nathan Orme is the editor of the Sparks Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.