Residents Would Flee Las Vegas, If They Could Afford It

Last Updated Mar 29, 2010 8:03 PM EDT

A survey came out this week stating that 40% percent of Las Vegas residents want to leave the state. The reasons should be easy to figure out, I've written several stories about Las Vegas, including how it's so far the biggest loser in the recession. There have been mass layoffs, casinos burdened with debt or foreclosed on by creditors, anger at anyone saying anything remotely negative about the place and a general feeling that Vegas had become a bargain destination rather than a wealthy playground.

It didn't help how some casino and company executives started shouting that Las Vegas was "recession-proof." They sound doubly stupid now, because according to the survey approximately 80% of residents owe more on their house than it's worth (much like casino operators on the Strip!) and are facing 13.2% unemployment (higher than the national average of 9.7%).

According to the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation:

The ramifications are not good for Nevada. The longer it takes for the national economy to
rebound, the longer it will take for Nevada's leisure and hospitality dependant economy to recover.

Leisure and hospitality makes up 27 percent of Nevada's industry base, compared to just 10
percent nationally. Consumers are still in no mood to spend. Negative pressure on wage growth
and disposable income growth will persist as long as the labor market remains soft. Workers are
still uncertain about short-term prospects and are unlikely to spend on recreation and entertainment any time soon. It appears Nevada will be waiting for some time for its fortunes to improve.

But the sense is that a large portion of its population feels trapped by debt and by circumstance and just want to flee into the great unknown rather than deal with the painful and expensive realities of life (don't we all?) There's also the feeling of loneliness and sadness that seems to shroud Sin City, at least according to another report by a Temple University sociology professor, where residents and even tourists were more likely to commit suicide in Las Vegas than anywhere else.

The Las Vegas mentality is a strange one (they are the only city to have a Mob Museum) with alternating conservative and liberal views, a high tolerance for glitz, glamor and seediness, but beneath its tough outer shell of flinty pit bosses, steely-eyed executives and hardworking showgirls, it is as sensitive as a baby to criticism or neglect.

The recession has hit the city harder than most places because of its reliance on the hospitality industry. And the once booming metropolis is feeling the pain once that boom went bust and everyone's livelihood went along with it.

In all likelihood, Las Vegas will emerge from the recession in the next few years and then its casinos, its workers and residents will again feel stirrings of hope and profits. Once that occurs, most residents won't remember how they felt in the midst of the recession, because they will be too busy working, paying their bills and raising children.

Photo: James Marvin Phelps (mandj98)