The chief economist for the Department of Employment Training and Rehabilitation said Wednesday that Nevada is now paying about $300 million a week in federal and state unemployment benefits and has paid a total of some $2.3 billion since the pandemic forced most businesses to shut down.
Hardest hit, according to Dave Schmidt, was the accommodations and food services industry that lost 41 percent of its employees after casinos, resorts and restaurants were shuttered. Retail trade was also hard hit by the closure of non-essential stores.
Construction was one of the least impacted industries, according to Schmidt, managing to actually add about 100 jobs.
Since the shutdown in mid March, he said more than 400,000 claims for unemployment benefits have come through Nevada’s system.
Schmidt told members of the Economic Forum most businesses have reopened, albeit at reduced levels. But he doesn’t have data on how many people have gone back to work. He said he really won’t know how reopening is doing until the June numbers are available.
”A month from now in June I expect a dramatic change in the numbers,” he said.
He said it won’t be back down to the 3.6 percent unemployment Nevada had before the shutdown, but “more like a typical recession.” The current unemployment rate is 28.2 percent, highest in the nation.
Schmidt said many of those currently receiving benefits are actually making more than they did at their jobs — primarily because of the $600 a week federal addition to their Nevada benefits.
Those people, he said, need to know that, if they are offered their job back, “employees can’t refuse suitable work.” Obviously, an employee’s former job is considered suitable.
“It’s important that people can’t just sit on unemployment because they receive more money that way,” he said.
To do so could result in fraud charges.
The presentation was the first in a series of Economic Forum meetings to help the panel prepare for projecting state General Fund revenues ahead of the 2021 Legislature.
The forum consists of five private industry experts who provide the governor and Legislature projections of state revenue that must be used to build the state budget.