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August 27, 2015

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J. Patrick Coolican:

National media here for the debate should look into the big story

J. Patrick Coolican

J. Patrick Coolican

A message to the assembled national press corps here for the Republican debate:

Welcome to Las Vegas. If at all possible, avoid the following clichés in your debate stories: Sin City, “What happens in Vegas” and any and all poker and gambling references.

More important, while I realize the voracious consumers of horse-race political coverage back in Washington and New York demand that you tell us every last bit of irrelevancy about this horrid campaign, you should know there’s an incredible story here in Las Vegas. Please, spend an extra day here and see it for yourselves.

Here’s the primer:

Just as Las Vegas was the adrenaline- and booze-fueled emblem of the economic expansion that began in the 1980s and continued almost unabated until 2007, we are now the epicenter of the Great Recession.

Soon we’ll be entering our fifth year of misery. The Las Vegas unemployment rate is 14.2 percent, which doesn’t include people working part time or those who have quit looking; the real unemployment rate is above 20 percent. We have nearly 100,000 unemployed construction workers, although no doubt many have left to find work elsewhere, like steel workers leaving Cleveland.

We have the highest foreclosure rate in the nation: One in every 39 housing units received a foreclosure filing initiating the process during the third quarter; last year, one in every nine housing units received a foreclosure filing, for a total of 88,198. Read that again. We were supposed to be encouraged because there were fewer in 2010 than in 2009.

In September, home prices were off another 8.6 percent from a year prior, as the fire sale continues. Prices in Adams Morgan and SoHo may be back on the rise, but our home prices are now back to November 1998 levels. More than 80 percent of our homeowners are underwater.

Although the Las Vegas Strip is still a vibrant and busy place and we’re the top convention city in America, there’s been no recovery to speak of here.

So you can imagine that we find it a little baffling when all the talk in Washington is about deficits and fiscal austerity measures like spending cuts and payroll tax increases, as well as the most bizarre of all — a demand for tighter money at the Fed.

I guess I can understand it. I’m from back East, and when I go home, it’s fairly apparent that the recession has ended, at least when it comes to New York and Washington. (Or just as likely: You never really had a recession.)

What with all the great restaurants filled with banksters and lobbyists, I can see why you’d join the sensible centrists and call for an end to all the emergency measures to get the economy moving.

We here in Las Vegas, not unlike broad swaths of the country, are still in a state of emergency.

To some extent, this is our own fault: We got caught up in the frenzy and didn’t pay enough attention to diversifying our economy or educating our future workers. But you people who ride the Acela played a part, too: Unregulated thrifts handing out shoddy mortgage loans that were then securitized by the banksters and given sham AAA ratings; then-Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan leaving rates too low for too long; mismanagement at government-backed firms Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; and a general attitude in Washington that financial markets needed little oversight.

But back to Las Vegas. We implore you: Go to Nevada JobConnect, which is our unemployment office, and talk to people about trying to find work.

Take a tour of the city with a Realtor to see all the neighborhoods with for-sale signs.

Talk to a kindergarten teacher with 45 students. Or a police officer who has seen domestic violence and suicide rates rise. Go to a food bank and talk to the families and ask yourself what that does to a child and his ability to thrive.

Or, if your editors aren’t interested, and they’re probably not, at least do us the favor of getting drunk and losing a pile at the tables.

Also, maybe you want to buy a vacation property: We have many going for the price of a decent Mercedes.

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