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High Unemployment Lingers in Mountain West, As Travel and Tourism Continue to Recover

Darren J. Bradley
An emptied Las Vegas street, photographed in March.

Two states in the Mountain West have some of the country’s highest unemployment rates, including Nevada, which tops the nation. 

Nevada’s unemployment rate sits at 13.2%, much higher than most of its regional neighbors, except New Mexico, which ranks close behind with 11.3%. That’s according to the latest report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Although Nevada’s unemployment has improved – from a staggering 30% in April – it remains the highest in the country, primarily impacted by a grinding halt to tourism and gaming industries in the spring. 

Even with those industries picking back up somewhat, the flow of visitors into the state remains sharply reduced.   

Frederick Steinmann is an associate research professor with the College of Business at the University of Nevada, Reno. He says it comes down to travel restrictions and public perception of risk.  

“We can open up our casinos and our resorts and our economy but that doesn’t mean people will be able to travel or will be willing to travel to our state,” he said. 

Steinmann says the recent extension of Candian travel restrictions will hurt Nevada in the fall and winter months, when northern snowbirds are typically seeking warmer climes. 

He points out that all of the Mountain West is vulnerable given its reliance on tourism and travel, especially if disruptions from COVID-19 continue. 

“We still face the threat of continued spread of the virus, an expansion of the pandemic, and if that happens we kind of lose all of the momentum we’ve gained in the last couple months and we have to go back to square one,” he said. 

Except for Nevada and New Mexico, the rest of the region sits below the national unemployment level of 8.4%.

Utah and Idaho rank among the top three lowest unemployment rates in the country. 

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting

Beau grew up listening to public radio on the Palouse. He is a former host, reporter, producer and engineer for Montana Public Radio in Missoula. As a reporter, he is interested in stories that address issues and perspectives unique to living in the West.
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