Nevada’s Numbers: Housing and Income in an Urban State

Nevada FlagNumbers are handy things, and while the very best things in life don’t come with price tags, the numbers associated with income in Nevada are interesting.

For example, the Quick Facts report from the Census Bureau shows a median household income in Nevada of $54,038, with a person per household rate of 2.69.  However, we can drill down from Justice Department calculations to find that the median income for a single person is $44,924 which is a full $9114 below the commonly accepted Census number. So what?

The quickest conclusion is that in order for a household in Nevada to secure the extra $9114 there must be at least two working persons.  Further, we can see in the Justice Department table that the median household income for a household of two is $55,674, the same for three ($55,674), and for four $66,562.   The first thing that’s obvious from the figures is that the old Ozzie & Harriet TV sitcom version of “home life,” all 435 episodes of it, doesn’t fit the economic reality of the average Nevada household, and probably never did.

The nostalgic setting for the Golden Era (as seen on televised reruns and specials) came complete with a single income family (husband being the bacon procurer) in a detached house.  The $44,924 median annual income for a single income stands in stark contrast to the amount required to maintain the Sitcom Version of family life.

Where the house is located matters.  For example, a two income family in the Reno/Sparks area having the $55,674 median annual income would need to increase that to $61,694 to maintain the same lifestyle in Las Vegas. [NWcalculator] Housing costs about 14% more in Las Vegas, food will cost about 10% more, and health care about 9% more. Transportation is the only category in which Las Vegas is less expensive than Reno, by approximately 7%.

Nationally, the statewide median house value in Nevada ranks 20th, at $190,900. [USAcom] The home ownership rate for the state is about 57.8%, meaning that of Nevada’s 992,896 households some 573,894 are living in homes they own. The national rate is 65.5%. [Census]  Again, where does this lead?

Let’s add one more set of numbers.  A study compiled from 2010 Census Bureau figures reveals that the rural population of the state is 156,754 (5.8%) while the population classified as urban stands at 2,543,797 or 94.20%.  [*download]

Given that the “wide open spaces” or “miles and miles of little but miles and miles” may give the casual observer the impression Nevada is a “western” (read “rural”) state the numbers say otherwise.   New Hampshire, with a rural population rate of 39.7% is far more ‘rural’ than Nevada.

Thus, our household income issues, our housing issues,  and our economic issues are essentially urban.  Not to argue that the rural areas aren’t worthy of governmental notice, consideration, representation, and assistance — BUT,

## The change in Nevada’s median household income declined by an estimated 11.9% between 2000 and 2012. [CB pdf]  That’s money which was not cycled back through the state’s economy; money not spent on housing, not spent on food, not spent on transportation, and not spent on clothing or other retail items.   And, that is, of course, money not generating yet more income in the two places which drive the state’s economy — Las Vegas and Reno.  Further, that’s money which could not be applied toward a move from northern to southern Nevada where living expenses would require more than the employment on offer might provide.

## The Gee Whiz Just Go Where The Jobs Are argument doesn’t quite work in Nevada, wherein the distance between the two major economic centers, and the difference in living expenses are structural deterrents to economically informed mobility.

This would sound like an argument for economic growth in the Reno area, but we’d have to take into consideration the notion of affordable housing available for employees who are starting new jobs.  On paper Nevada has 35 affordable units per 100 households, which looks even worse when we move across the column and find that this number evaporates down to 17 affordable units per 100 households when the descriptor “available” is added. [NLIHC pdf]

## Where does the state predict there will be job growth for positions which do not require a college degree?  Dealers, restaurant cooks, wait staff, retail sales staff, and office clerks.  [DETR]  And the average wages? Dealers ranging from $15.30 to $38.25, cooks approximately $13.95, wait staff $10.26, and office clerks $14.85.

The arithmetic is simple — most of these jobs aren’t going to pay enough to get individuals into the more expensive sections of the grocery market, much less the housing market, and finding affordable housing is problematic.

So, while we have a plethora of politicians stumping about the state  calling for “freedom,” “independence,” “traditional values,” “opportunity,” and “self reliance,” the major economic issues — loss of median household income, and  inadequate household income — are less about “freedom” and altogether more about the basic necessities of urban living.  Housing. Income.

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