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Tim Burke: A look at Nye County making ‘worst’ list

In June, USA Today published a “worst county in each state” article. Written by 24/7 Wall Street, a financial news and opinion company, the article was based on an analysis of economic data.

To identify the worst counties to live in, 24/7 Wall St. used U.S. Census Bureau data to construct an index of three measures: poverty, the percentage of adults who have at least a bachelor’s degree, and average life expectancy at birth. Also included in the analysis was data on life expectancy from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation and the April 2019 unemployment rates from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The article states the following about Nye County: “Nye County, Nevada, is located in the southern part of the state, west of Las Vegas. The county is easily the worst to live in the state, based on 24/7 Wall Street’s index. Just 11.5% of county adults have a bachelor’s degree, less than half the state’s relatively low 23.7% share, and the county’s 4.8% April unemployment rate is one of the higher rates in the country. People born today in Nye County have a life expectancy of 74.1 years, which is about five years below the national average life expectancy.”

The article also states that we have decreased in population with a five-year change of -1.2% vs. the state growth of +6.8%) and that the Nye County poverty rate is 17.3% compared to the state level of 14.2%.

A more in-depth look at the county’s economic and quality of life indicators can be found at Data USA. In 2014, Deloitte, Datawheel, and Cesar Hidalgo from MIT came together to form Data USA to gather, understand, and visualize the critical issues facing the United States in areas like jobs, skills and education across industry and geography.

They developed advanced data analytics that gives states, counties, and local governments in-depth information on occupations, from teachers to welders to web developers; on industries, where they are thriving; and on education and skills, from where is the best place to live if you’re a computer science major to the key skills needed to be an accountant.

The economies of Nevada’s rural counties have not rebounded as fast as the urban areas, and Nye County is doing worse compared to other Nevada rural counties.

According to Data USA, in 2017 the economy of Nye County employed 14,600 people. The largest industries in the county are retail trade (1,775 people), accommodation and food services (1,488 people), and health care and social assistance (1,257 people), and the highest paying industries are utilities ($80,395), mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction ($61,958), and agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, and mining ($53,075).

Our largest employment fields have the lowest wages, skewing our average income per household downward. Woefully absent in the job category and wage report are high-paying jobs in manufacturing, light industry, and technology careers.

Nye County’s largest town, Pahrump, does not have the infrastructure to attract the types of companies with higher paying jobs to come here. There aren’t large commercial buildings ready for new tenants and for those companies willing to invest in land and build their own building, it is a challenge to find property the right size with the correct zoning to support light industry and manufacturing.

There are several utility companies with each serving only certain areas, leaving large unserved areas, forcing potential new businesses to figure out on their own how to supply water and sewer to their project. These factors make it more difficult to attract a business here than to the already developed urban areas or other rural counties.

There wasn’t anything in the 24/7 Wall Street article that you didn’t already know if you live here. The article was based on objective economic facts. Residents here have a more positive viewpoint of Nye County and Pahrump. Some residents will greet the news of our coming in last in yet another ranking as good news, saying “bad news is good, that will keep people from moving here.” That is illogical. First, you thought it was a good idea to move here, so why wouldn’t someone else think the same? And secondly, how is low income and lacking health care a positive for anyone’s quality of life?

A subjective view of our county by its residents would be that this is a great place to live. We understand that for many jobs and services we need to go to Las Vegas, it’s only an hour away and far less than the commute that many city dwellers endure daily. More services are slowing moving into the area, which will cut down on those Vegas trips. We enjoy having more space for our homes with fewer streetlights that let us see far more stars than those urban residents. We enjoy knowing who our neighbors are, running into friends at the grocery store, and letting our kids play outside.

Objective economic data says one thing about our county, living here gives you a completely different independent opinion.

Tim Burke is a businessman, philanthropist, educator and Pahrump resident. Contact him at timstakenv@gmail.com

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