- Associated Press - Monday, January 27, 2014

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) - Nevada’s unemployment rate fell to 8.8 percent in December, marking the fourth straight month of declines. But the reasons reflect the state’s continued struggle to crawl out of the recession.

The loss of jobs has slowed, but job creation continues to lag while the state’s labor pool shrinks, economists said.

“It appears that gross job losses have receded to ‘normal’ levels and are hovering around pre-recession lows,” said Bill Anderson, chief economist of the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation. “However, gross job gain, a proxy for hiring activity, remain stubbornly low.

“Although job trends have turned positive, hiring activity needs to pick up to see more noticeable net gains.”

About 120,000 Nevadans remained out of work in December, down from 134,000 a year ago. During that same time, the labor pool contracted by 8,400.

For the calendar year, Nevada’s jobless rate averaged 9.4 percent, down from 11.1 percent in 2012.

“The state added jobs this year, mostly in retail, but the majority of the decline in the unemployment rate was because of declines in the labor force,” said Elliott Parker, an economist at the University of Nevada, Reno. “Some of this labor-force decline is due to the baby boomers starting to hit retirement age, and some may be due to people moving. But some of it is people giving up on finding a job for now.”

Gov. Brian Sandoval focused on the positive.

“The unemployment rate declined in each of the year’s final four months, to its lowest reading since late 2008 and jobs were added for three straight months at the end of 2013,” Sandoval said in a statement. “As 2014 begins all indications suggest additional improvements, with trends pointing to further growth and a continued decrease in the unemployment rate.”

Nevada has led the nation in unemployment since May 2010 in all but one month. In November, it tied with Rhode Island as having the highest jobless rate in the nation. Nevada’s ranking for December won’t be known for about a week when all states report their data to the U.S. Bureau of Labor.

The state’s 8.8 percent jobless rate remained well above the national rate of 6.7 percent.

While the statewide rate dipped in December because they are adjusted for seasonal job trends, local markets, which are not adjusted, saw higher unemployment numbers.

The rate in Las Vegas rose to 8.9 percent from 8.6 percent, while Reno went to 8.4 percent from 8.2 percent. Carson City’s December rate rose to 9.3 percent from 9.1 percent. For comparison, the statewide unadjusted rate in December was 8.8 percent, up from 8.5 percent in November.

Anderson said preliminary data shows 18,900 private sector jobs were added in the last year. But he expects that number to rise when final numbers are calculated in March.

Economists will be watching to see what effect the termination of long-term unemployment benefits will have on the state’s overall jobless rate.

The federal program created at the height of the recession allowed people to continue to receive jobless benefits after regular state benefits expired for as long as 99 weeks. Though the program was scaled back to 73 weeks in 2012, it expired last month and Congress has been unable to reach agreement on a continuance.

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