Has Las Vegas's luck run out?

Casino in Las Vegas

Las Vegas has a very big hangover.

Not in the sense of waking up in its hotel room with a tiger in the bed next door and a baby in the wardrobe, as in the recent film of that name, but a hangover of an economic kind.

When times were good, Vegas boomed bigger than any city in the US.

When credit crunched, it crashed harder too.

'Human billboard' Chris 'Human billboard' Chris tries to attract the attention of passing cars with his sign

For those looking for work, it is a very tough market.

As jobs go, being a 'human billboard' has got to be worse than flipping burgers.

Standing on a street corner in 44 degrees centigrade, flipping an advertising sign as traffic rumbles past, Chris is getting his first taste of employment in Las Vegas.

It took him a while to find it.

"It's my first job, so I cant expect that much."

And in the future? He pauses for thought in the narrow shade of a telegraph pole, and grins.

"Something with air con would be nice."

He has not got a family to support, or a house and car to pay for.

The huge increase in unemployment in Las Vegas has hit those who did have those commitments, hence the stories of people setting fire to their own houses to escape their debts, or living in tents in their gardens because the bank changed the locks.

The Lost Decade

From bust to boom to bust - we look at the US economy from 2001 to 2011, and how it changed America and the world.

Burning through savings

At a jobs fair, held in a room at the Palace casino, there are a few firms with stands, with possible openings in retail, in warehousing, but there is not much on show.

William Rivera works at a call centre, but needs another job, to look after his ageing parents.

"My pay-cheque comes in and it's gone. I need savings," he says.

"If anything was to happen I'd be stuck. Its very tough here in Vegas."

James Ritchie is a victim of the downturn, a former construction manager burning through his savings just to survive.

How long has he got? "Until I'm out? Let's say a couple of months," he says.

"There's my wife, two kids, a decent-sized mortgage and that's being paid out of our of savings.

Start Quote

Las Vegas is the poster child for what America has gone through”

End Quote Steven Brown Regional economist

"It's pretty tough out there right now. "

And what about the employers? One of those with a few openings in the area is Darla Smith, recruiter for a diesel engine company Cummings Rocky Mountain.

She is taken aback by how few firms are taking on new recruits.

"I was a little surprised there weren't more employers here. I thought there'd be a few more people trying to hire, but then that's to our benefit that there aren't."

'Bigger boom, bigger bust'

At nearly 15%, unemployment is well over the national average, and regional economist Steven Brown thinks the real figure could touch 25%, almost all of it down to the collapse in construction.

Foreclosed home, Summerlin, Las Vegas Some areas of Las Vegas are littered with foreclosed homes

No-one is going to build a billion dollar hotel casino complex for many years now.

Mr Brown says it has made Las Vegas a mirror for the problems of the American economy.

"Las Vegas is the poster child for what America has gone through.

"We've seen a bigger boom, a bigger bust, we've also seen the unemployment rate in the state the highest in the nation - Las Vegas has the highest rate of any big city in the US."

Taxi drivers will tell you they are doing well, because the weak dollar means more foreign tourists are coming to Vegas and they don't drive themselves.

Visitor numbers are recovering but visitors are spending less.

There is work from the casinos but there are too many hotel rooms, a legacy of the boom, and an empty hotel room means trouble across town.

"We usually say each hotel room is good for two or three jobs," says estate agent Mark Peveler.

"So for every house it's one or two jobs to keep the house alive, so when those go away, the people move out and, well, go elsewhere."

Which is why his list is full of houses that have been foreclosed by the mortgage provider, including several burnt or flooded by furious homeowners forced out by their banks.

Job creation

Diversification is the buzz-word in Las Vegas - not surprising in an economy reliant entirely on one sector, gaming.

There is talk of renewable energy, warehousing, medical tourism, but for now Las Vegas is a place to leave, not - as it has been for decades - a place to come to and reinvent yourself.

President Barack Obama is to announce his fresh job creation plans to Congress after the Labor Day weekend.

Nevada, a state which prides itself on self-reliance and light government, will prove to be one of the toughest tests of its success.

Lawrence Pollard presents The World Today on the BBC World Service.

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