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September 1, 2014

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What will Las Vegas look like in 2030?

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Already in the past century, Clark County has gone from a desert train stop with a population of 3,000 to a global entertainment hub and bustling urban expanse of 2 million people.

Anatomy of Las Vegas now

Las Vegas has reached the point where non-Hispanic whites roughly equal the number of people of other ethnicities. We’re trending more independent politically, and there’s been a 15 percent increase in college degree holders since 1990.

• Sex: 50.3% male, 49.6% female

• Ethnicity: 46.5% non-Hispanic white; 30.5% Hispanic; 13.1% other; 9.9% black

• Age: 53.6% 25-64; 20.4% 14-under; 13.1% 65-plus; 12.8% 15-24

• Relationship status: 43.9% married, 33.9% never married; 14.5% divorced, 5.1% widowed; 2.6% separated

• Education: 29.6% high school diploma; 29% bachelor's degree or higher; 24.9% some college; 16.6% less than high school

IMMIGRATION

Foreigners moving into Clark County traditionally have come from Latin America, but Census data from the past few years show Asian immigration now outpaces the influx from Latin America. That’s due to both increasing need for nurses and other health care professionals, as well as an influx drawn by the hospitality industry, Brookings Mountain West UNLV Director Robert Lang said.

• Birthplace of current population: 75% U.S. (not Nevada); 16% outside U.S.; 8% Las Vegas; 1% rest of Nevada

POLITICS: 46.4% Democrat; 314% Republican; 22.4% other

EMPLOYMENT: 23% Hospitality; 10.7% retail; 9.5% government; 7.4% health care; 4.5% construction; 44.7% other

Anatomy of Las Vegas in 2030

Las Vegas has grown older and wiser ­— literally. There are more people ages 65 and older, and there are more high school and college graduates. In addition, the Hispanic population alone now equals the non-Hispanic white population.

• Ethnicity: 38.5% non-Hispanic white; 8% Hispanic; 14.4% other; 9.1% black

• Age: 49.5% 25-64; 20.4% 65-plus; 18.7% 14-under; 11.4% 15-24

THE POPULATION WILL INCREASE. WHY?

1. Baby boomers are aging, and they view Las Vegas as a desirable retirement destination.

2. Foreign immigrants will continue to move here seeking nursing and other health care jobs, as well as tourism and hospitality jobs.

3. As the population grows, so will the number of children.

How can we prepare for this increase?

Southern Nevada faces huge challenges in preparing for the changes, said Robert Lang, Brookings Mountain West UNLV director. “We’re only doing two-thirds of our medicine right now,” he said. On education, he said: “Before last year, we were the most diverse state to not provide any (English-language learner) funding.”

CLARK COUNTY IS 'MAJORITY-MINORITY?

Clark County already was a “majority minority” community as of the 2010 Census. Non-Hispanic whites made up 48 percent of the population, while all other groups made up 52 percent, according to 2012 estimates. The change is being fueled largely by the Hispanic population, which is expected to be virtually equal to the non-Hispanic white population by 2030. Today, there are about 300,000 more non-Hispanic whites than Hispanics in the valley.

• 4 states are majority-minority: Hawaii, California, New Mexico and Texas. Washington, D.C., also is.

• 353 counties (out of 3,143) are majority-minority. That's more than 11 percent.

• 4 more states are expected to become majority-minority over the next decade: Arizona, New Jersey, Delaware and New York.

• Around the year 2043, non-Hispanic whites will become a plurality in the United States.

Change came rapidly to Southern Nevada, and the region continues to evolve quickly. What Las Vegas looks like in 2030 will depend on the nation’s economy and the development of new businesses, but demographic shifts in age, race and ethnicity are certain to reshape the valley.

Viewpoints vary about what specific changes are on the horizon and how they will affect Las Vegas. But experts say there’s no question that some facets of the community — education, health care and transportation, in particular — will need to undergo a transformation for the community to thrive as it evolves.

•••

It is 2030, and you and your friends have just enjoyed a night out in the Fremont East District. The corridor is bustling, fortified with bars, restaurants, theaters and a nearby Major League Soccer stadium.

Clark County is now home to 2.5 million people, about the size of Denver’s metropolitan area in 2014.

Several of your friends work in the medical industry, which has grown quickly over the past two decades to feed the needs of an elderly population that has ballooned by 250,000. The Bonneville Transit Center now houses multiple lines of a new light rail system, one of the biggest transportation projects the county has ever undertaken, and on your way home, you see a stranger drop his train ticket. When you hand it back to him, the odds that he is Hispanic are approximately the same as the chance he is non-Hispanic white.

Based on today’s demographic projections for the Las Vegas Valley, that scenario could come to pass.

Transportation

Southern Nevadans love their personal automobiles, and barring substantial changes to public transportation infrastructure, three quarters of residents will continue to use their own cars to get to work. Even carpooling is expected to decline in Clark County.

Southern Nevada is not sprawling, Brookings Mountain West UNLV Director Robert Lang said, comparing urban density to cities like Miami and Honolulu. But we are “car dependent.”

Lang predicts major transportation improvement by 2030, including a highway between Phoenix and Las Vegas and a light rail system in Clark County. But there are limits to urban expansion thanks to the valley’s ring of mountains.

With population and economic growth, there will be more need for mass transportation within the valley and better connections between the economic hubs of the southwest. A light rail system would boost development in the city center, attract European tourists accustomed to using commuter trains and lure high-tech workers who see driving as wasted time.

Politics

Clark County is expected to elect more Democrats, in part due to unaffiliated voters.

The percentage of voters not affiliated with the Republican or Democratic parties is expected to grow, as it increased from 7 percent in 1970 to 25 percent today. UNLV political scientist David Damore says the shift mirrors a national trend, but also reflects the transient nature of Clark County’s population.

“When people move here from somewhere else, they may want to participate in the political process but they aren’t sure yet where their allegiance is in terms of state politics,” he said.

Shifting demographics also could lead to more minority representation on local councils and boards, but it will take time. Isaac Barron became the first Hispanic North Las Vegas city councilman last year.

“Political office is a real burden in our state, because it’s considered a part-time job,” Damore said. “So candidates need to have another source of income. For some people, if they have a family and are worried about finances, holding political office is a real grind.”

It also takes time to build up a pipeline of candidates. As more minorities serve in lower-level boards and public offices, the number of minority candidates seeking higher state or local offices should increase.

Economics

Median income and the poverty rate should rebound as the national economy creeps upward.

Even so, bringing a higher percentage of people into the workforce, and overall economic prosperity, will depend on diversification. The results of initiatives such as the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance’s push to build manufacturing to attract more technology firms will be vitally important.

Lang believes Southern Nevada will attract companies focused on information technology and applied technology, such as gaming systems, but our higher education system and general levels of education will dissuade other companies from moving here.

From 1990 to 2010, the percentage of Southern Nevada residents older than 25 with a bachelor’s degree or higher jumped 15 percent, while the percentage with less than a high school diploma fell more than 6 percent.

According to CBER projections, accommodations and food service jobs will continue to make up just under a quarter of all local jobs. Along with health care, the percentage of jobs in construction is expected to climb, as construction bottomed out in the last few years and is expected to rebound.

“Hotels and gaming are still the largest employer, not just in Clark County but also statewide,” state demographer Jeff Hardcastle said. “That industry will continue to dominate for a long time.”

Sports

What about the soccer stadium people are hoping will bring Las Vegas its first pro franchise?

That is in the hands of developers and public officials now, but Southern Nevada’s evolving demographics could make a soccer team successful. MLS boasts the largest percentage of Hispanic viewers, at 34 percent, 22 percentage points higher than any other major sport.

Soccer is the most popular game worldwide and a passion in Latin America. The local soccer scene already has grown significantly in the past decade, and the influx of more immigrants and the growth of the Hispanic community will surely boost the number of soccer aficionados.

What could change the predictions?

Social scientists and demographers can make pretty good guesses about how the population will grow over the next several years and decades. But they still lack a crystal ball. So even their best guesses are just that — guesses that can change. What could happen to throw local projections off? Some possibilities:

• No water: In-fighting among states that share water from the Colorado River could worsen, and Southern Nevada could face a severe drought. If there’s no water here, there certainly won’t be many people here.

• Bad economy: If the housing market crashes again, there won’t be new construction jobs, either.

• Too hot: If climate change continues to progress, our desert could heat up and become inhospitable to life — or at least really uncomfortable. How many people want to live in a place that reaches 123 degrees in summer?

• No jobs: If casinos in other states continue to succeed and flourish, tourism on the Strip could plummet. If visitor numbers fall and businesses struggle, there won’t be a need for an influx of workers.

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