ANOTHER OPINION: Failure to diversify economy, improve education at heart of problems
In the comparisons between the Great Depression eight decades ago and the current Great Recession, the economic situation today pales in comparison. The national unemployment rate was more than double the current rate, and many of the provisions helping people now, including unemployment and bank insurance, were created in those difficult times to address the hardships people faced.
One other comparison worth note: Nevada entered the Great Depression late and came out of it quickly. The state, though, is expected to suffer through the recession much longer.
The state weathered the Depression in part because of the federal government’s infusion of cash into building Hoover Dam as well as operations at the munitions depot in Mineral County. As well, the New Deal program brought work via a number of projects. State officials helped pump up tourism by legalizing gambling and making divorce easier to obtain.
This time, however, there is no easy fix because the state’s economy is largely dependent on discretionary spending – gambling and tourism. Guy Rocha, the respected former state archivist, says there won’t be an easy way out of the recession, particularly because tourists who want to gamble have no shortage of options across the country. That is a real problem for Nevada leaders, who have always looked for the easy way out. Typically, the political ethos has been to make temporary fixes and push the problems off into the future. Rocha calls it the “Band-Aid, bailing wire and bubble gum” approach.
Because of that, Nevada’s leaders have failed to do much to improve education or diversify the economy. The state boomed when the national economy did and tourism and growth became main drivers of the economy. That can’t continue to be the state’s economic model anymore.
Nevada can learn a lesson from a report issued this week by the Brookings Institution, which shows cities in the Intermountain West that have high education levels and clusters of health and social service industries have fared better than others such as Las Vegas.
Unfortunately, leaders such as Gov. Jim Gibbons are closing their eyes to that reality. Gibbons just wants to gut government services and wait for better times. Instead, Nevada officials should be thinking big and looking at ways to put the state on stable economic footing. The state should be aggressively moving to incubate the renewable energy industry and boost the quality of education in the state.
Otherwise, Nevada will be back in the same spot in a few years, looking for a little more bailing wire to get through the next downturn.