Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Las Vegas' Slow Economic Recovery Serves As Democratic Debate Backdrop

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

The setting for tonight's debate is a state that votes early in the presidential nominating contest, and it's also a state that's still recovering from the great recession. Nevada's economy is getting better, but the state has the second- highest unemployment in the country after West Virginia. Michael Finnegan wrote about this for the LA Times, and he says by some measures, the recession hurt Nevada more than any other state.

MICHAEL FINNEGAN: It's got an economy that's really narrowly dependent on tourism. And when the economy crashed in 2008, the tourism stopped, and it had kind of a domino effect where then, you know, construction stopped. And jobs dried up, and people started going into foreclosure. So it was a very kind of intense experience of the recession in Nevada.

MCEVERS: But there is some building going on in Nevada, right?

FINNEGAN: There is construction going on, but it's really interesting. I was out on the outskirts of Las Vegas kind of where the suburbs fade into the desert, and you can see some housing construction resuming. But once you start talking to people around there, you get the sense that it's not entirely all the way back.

I mean, one guy I was talking to was talking to me about having worked in this casino-resort the Fontainebleau on the strip as an electrician, and construction just came to a halt. And the money just dried up. All of a sudden, they couldn't finish it. And it's still there.

MCEVERS: One of the most striking images about your piece is this building, the Fontainebleau. Tell us a little bit more about that.

FINNEGAN: Well, it's kind of fascinating. It was 2006, 2007 when they were getting started, and it was the peak of the construction boom in Las Vegas. The unemployment rate in Nevada at that time was only about 4 percent. And almost as soon as they started building, the economy started going bad. And by early 2009, the banks pulled the loans, and they couldn't keep going.

And so they abandoned the project, and it's there now like this big hulk on the skyline. It's actually just a couple blocks from where the debate is taking place tonight. So it's just sort of sitting there on the strip is this gigantic symbol of the incomplete recovery in Nevada.

MCEVERS: Economic issues like minimum wage obviously are big for Democrats. What did people there in Nevada tell you they want to hear from politicians?

FINNEGAN: You know, it was really interesting. I was focused much more on sort of what people's experience of the recovery has been than on their sort of receptivity to the kind of things they're hearing from politicians. But to the extent that we talked about candidates in the presidential campaign and that kind of thing, it was really far away. And the stuff that the candidates are saying about the problems that they're experiencing with, you know, anecdotal - this was a small group of people. But nothing was resonating in any serious way. There was a real strong sort of discontent with the political system in general, and I definitely picked up on that.

MCEVERS: That's Michael Finnegan. He's a political reporter with the LA Times. Michael, thank you so much.

FINNEGAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.