Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012 | 2 a.m.
The Nevada economy has at long last hit bottom and begun its slow crawl up. The state’s private employers added more jobs than they lost last year, the first time that’s been true since 2007, according to state figures released Tuesday.
But the numbers also signal that Nevada’s recovery will be slow and long.
“It’s the beginning of an anemic recovery,” said John Restrepo, principal of RCG Economics, an economic data firm in Las Vegas.
Average monthly employment grew to 1,117,000 in 2011, an increase of 7,800 jobs, according to Bill Anderson, chief economist for the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation, which collects the data.
Whatever minimal momentum Nevada’s economy is showing is a far cry from 2007, when employment in Nevada peaked, fueled by free-spending gamblers, a booming residential housing market and construction on the Las Vegas Strip.
Since then, the state has lost about 175,000 jobs. While tourism and service sector jobs have risen from their nadir, the construction industry is still falling, losing almost 90,000 jobs since its peak in 2006.
To put it in perspective, the number of jobs in Nevada this year is back to 2004 levels.
Unemployment figures get the most attention — Nevada has the highest rate in the nation — but they don’t take into account people who move out of state and those who give up looking for work.
Economists say that a better measure of economic health is the number of jobs.
“The economy has found its bottom and is inching its way up from that,” said Jeremy Aguero, principal of Applied Analysis, a research firm in Las Vegas.
The gaming and tourism industries have rebounded, while construction continues to drag down overall numbers.
One recent analysis by his firm found that the Las Vegas unemployment rate of 12.5 percent would be 8 percent if you excluded the construction industry.
Cuts in state and local governments also hurt overall job creation. While the private sector added about 12,000 jobs in 2011, the public sector shrunk by about 4,000 jobs.
Gov. Brian Sandoval this month challenged Nevada businesses to create 50,000 jobs by the end of 2014.