Policy Briefs


Should Las Vegas Bet on Homeownership? Trends in Housing Affordability and Homeownership

Jenny Schuetz

Abstract: In many parts of the U.S., rents and housing prices are rising faster than household incomes. Low-income families have always been stretched to pay for housing without sacrificing other necessities. In recent years, housing costs have become a larger source of financial stress for middle-income families. While homeownership has been the primary channel for wealth building in the U.S., two recent trends raise questions about whether this is a viable strategy. First, many homeowners suffered severe financial losses due to housing price declines during the Great Recession (2007-2009). Second, homeownership rates for Black and Latino families lag those of white and Asian families – a challenge as the nation’s population becomes increasingly diverse. The Las Vegas metropolitan area is at the forefront of both of these trends. In this paper, I explore recent trends in housing affordability and homeownership in Las Vegas and discuss implications for financial security and wealth-building.

Making a Middle Class: Colleges and Cities in the Mountain West

Richard Reeves

Abstract: A stronger middle class is important for the economic and political future of both cities and nations. Analyses focusing on the size of the middle class can be misleading, providing information on income inequality or temporary economic conditions. More important than the size of the middle class is the quality of life of the middle class. Higher education can serve students from middle-class backgrounds, helping them sustain a middle-class standard of living and rise up the economic ladder, as well as providing “on ramps” to the middle class for those from low-income backgrounds. We show that middle class wage earners bore the brunt of the Great Recession in Las Vegas. Using a new metric of mobility based on data from Opportunity Insights (formerly the Equality of Opportunity Project), we also examine the contribution of colleges in the Mountain West to serving and strengthening the middle class.

The 2018 Midterms in the Mountain West

Molly Reynolds

Abstract: The 116th Congress has begun with a bang, with a protracted government shutdown and promises of aggressive oversight from the new Democratic House majority. To understand how we got to this point—and where we might be going in 2020—a look back at the 2018 elections is valuable. As a region, the Mountain West—Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, and Utah—provides useful insights into broader national political dynamics across all levels of government, from Congress to state legislatures.


The Growing Need for Diverse Teachers in the Mountain West

Michael Hansen & Diana Quintero

This policy brief examines the racial and ethnic diversity of the public teacher workforce in five Mountain West states, drawing on survey data from 1993 to 2016. We find increases in student diversity are generally outpacing teacher diversity in the region, though important differences in teacher-student parity and access to nonwhite teachers across states are also evident. In addition, we demonstrate the recruitment and retention of nonwhite teachers in these states lag considerably behind the rest of the U.S. This brief concludes with recommendations to help Mountain West states and districts promote greater racial and ethnic diversity among their teacher workforces.

Upward Mobility in the American Mountain West

Richard Reeves

Abstract: Upward economic and social mobility is an intrinsic element of American society. This brief explores upward mobility rates, measures of diversity, levels of domestic and foreign migration, and students’ family household income and their eventual individual incomes. The document reveals how the differing economic, demographic, and social characteristics affect mobility. The comparison of postsecondary institutions in Mountain West metros serves as a microcosm to better understand how metros and their universities can best serve our nation’s ever diversifying population.


The End of the Democratic Blue Wall?

Robert Lang & David Damore

Abstract: Building from a prior Brookings Mountain West brief (Damore & Lang, 2016), this policy brief considers how the Trump campaign, despite being vastly outspent, was able to use targeted online messages to activate “white identity politics”—long a staple of Republican politics in the South— in the non-metro areas of the upper Midwest. This messaging, coupled with Hillary Clinton’s unpopularity among white working class and rural voters in the region, interacted with the winner-take-all allocation of Electoral College votes to deliver the presidency for Trump. In the brief’s conclusion, the authors consider the implications that the 2016 election has for Electoral College politics moving forward.

Nevada's Net Energy Metering Experience: The Making of a Policy Eclipse?

Sanya Carley & Lincoln L. Davies

Abstract: Developments in Nevada pose important questions about the future of solar power and net metering in the United States. What information and processes led to Nevada’s decision? Was the information that decision-makers considered consistent with best practices and with the information relied on by other states? How does Nevada’s decision compare with other states evaluating changes to their net metering policies?

Latino, Labor Markets, and the Economic Recovery in Nevada

John Tuman

Abstract: During the past six years, Nevada’s economy has recovered. Nevertheless, there has been little research examining how different groups of workers fared during the recovery period. This study fills this gap by analyzing labor market conditions for Latinos throughout the state’s economic recovery.

Beyond Density & Diversity: Understanding the Socio-Cultural Geography of Contemporary Presidential Elections

David Damore & Robert Lang

Abstract: In the aftermath of the 2012 presidential election, a good deal of commentary held that President Obama’s re-election resulted from the country’s changing demography and his overwhelming support among nonwhite voters residing in the country’s urban spaces. Less discussed was the fact that Republican Mitt Romney also carried many urbanized states with ethnically and racially diverse populations and that President Obama would not have been re-elected without securing the Electoral Votes of a number of rural states with large white populations. The authors of this policy brief argue that the combination of educated populations and a socio-cultural construct we call "northernness" allow us to differentiate which urban and diverse states and which white and rural states are Democratic and Republican voting in contemporary presidential elections.


Do Gasoline Prices Affect Residential Property Values?

Adele C. Morris & Helen R. Neill

Abstract: This brief estimates the effect of gasoline prices on home values and explores the degree to which the relationship varies across a city. Using data from 930,702 home sales in Clark County, Nevada, from 1976 through 2010, we find that gasoline prices have significantly different effects on the sales price of homes in different neighborhoods. A ten percent increase in gasoline prices is associated with changes in location-specific average home values that span a range of over $13,000. This suggests that energy policies may affect household housing wealth via gasoline prices, a heretofore unrecognized distributional outcome.

Cracking the Code on Stem: A People Strategy for Nevada's Economy

Jessica Lee, Mark Muro, Jonathan Rothwell, Scott Andes & Siddharth Kulkarni

Abstract: Nevada has in place a plausible economic diversification strategy—and it’s beginning to work. Now, the state and its regions need to craft a people strategy, and specifically needs to boost the number of Nevadans who possess at least some postsecondary training in the fields of science, technology, engineering, or math—or the “STEM” disciplines (to which some leaders add arts and design to make, “STEAM”). Without concerted action to prepare more Nevadans for jobs in STEM fields, skills shortages could limit growth in the state’s most promising target industries and Nevadans could miss out on employment that offers paths to opportunity and advancement. This brief speaks to Nevada’s STEM challenge by providing a new assessment of Nevada’s STEM economy and labor market as well as a review of actions that leaders throughout the state can take to develop a workforce capable of supporting continued growth through economic diversification.

Interstate Migration Among Latinos and the Foreign-Born Latino Population in Nevada, 2007-2011

Jaewon Lim, John Tuman & David Damore

Abstract: Over the past two decades, Nevada’s foreign‐born Latino population has grown dramatically.By the end of 2011, approximately 42% of Latinos residing in Nevada had emigrated from Latin America, with over three‐fourths of the foreign‐born Latino population originating from Mexico. Prior to 2008, Latino employment was concentrated in Nevada’s hospitality, construction, and retail and wholesale trade sectors, as well as other low skilled occupations. However, in the aftermath of the Great Recession of 2008, the residential home construction and hospitality sectors were hard hit, with attendant consequences for patterns of unemployment among the U.S. and foreign‐born Latino population in the state.


Advancing Southern Nevada's Regional Priorities: Overview of the 77th Session of the Nevada Legislature

David Damore

Abstract: On January 10, 2013, the elected leadership of Southern Nevada met to discuss the region’s governance, K-12, higher education, infrastructure, economic development, and health care needs. From that bipartisan discussion emerged policy priorities for the 77th Session of the Nevada Legislature. This report examines the degree to which the region’s elected senators and assembly members advanced these priorities and represented the interests of Southern Nevada in state government.

The Impact of the Great Recession on Nevada's Latino Community

John P. Tuman, David F. Damore & Maria J.F. Agreda

Abstract: The Great Recession of 2008 had a profound impact in Nevada. The economic downturn generated high unemployment levels and led to turbulence in many sectors, particularly residential home construction and the hospitality industry. By 2009, it was evident that a tightening of commercial bank lending for new mortgages, combined with the impact of rising joblessness and plunging housing values, was hampering recovery efforts in the housing sector and Nevada’s economy generally. As a result of these trends, residential home construction – the engine of employment growth in Nevada since 2000 – came to a virtual standstill.

A Political Profile of Nevada's Latino Population

David F. Damore, John P. Tuman & Maria J.F. Agreda

Abstract: Although recent studies have pointed to the potential significance of Nevada’s growing Latino electorate, the influences on Latino political participation in the state remain poorly understood. In this brief, the authors attempt to fill this gap by developing a political profile of Nevada’s Latino community. The analysis explores how two important electoral institutions – redistricting and term limits – affected Latino representation between 2000 and 2013. The authors also offer aggregate data detailing turnout patterns among Latino voters in the 2000–2012 elections in Nevada, and an individual level examination of presidential vote preferences in the 2012 election for Latinos, by gender, age, education, and income. The authors conclude with a discussion on how increased participation and mobilization of Nevada’s Latino community has reshaped Nevada’s political landscape.

Immigration and the Contours of Nevada's Latino Population

John P. Tuman, David F. Damore & Maria J.F. Agreda

Abstract: Since the early 1980s, Nevada has experienced significant demographic change. In particular, the ethnic composition of the state has become considerably more diverse. Although growth in the Asian population is one of the sources of Nevada’s growing diversity, Nevada’s Latino population has also accounted for much recent demographic and social change. Much of the growth in the Latino population has been associated with immigration, principally from Mexico and other parts of Central America. In this brief, the authors analyze data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Decennial Census and American Community Survey to examine the drivers of Latino population growth.


The Utah Model: Lessons for Regional Planning

Brenda Scheer

Abstract: Utah has become an unlikely leader in regional planning through a voluntary partnership of key leaders, agencies, local government, and the general public. Given that regional planning efforts around the nation have generally evoked strong reactions from residents concerned about losing local control, the success of Envision Utah—the organization that emerged as a key driver of regional planning in Utah—in building a consensus around regional growth management holds lessons for other regions. Envision Utah adopted several strategies that have distinguished Utah’s regional planning efforts from other regions and given rise to what can be called the “Utah model” of collaborative planning.


Unify, Regionalize, Diversify: An Economic Development Agenda for Nevada

Mark Muro

Abstract: Nevada stands at a crossroads, yet it appears ready to remap its future. Silver Staters sense that the current economic slump has not been just a temporary reversal but a challenge to the state’s traditional growth model—one that has revealed an economy over-dependent on consumption sectors, prone to booms and busts, and too little invested in innovation and economic diversification. This brief draws on an intense five-month inquiry that sought to define the nature of the economic challenges the state and its major regions face; identify industries and industry clusters that have the highest potential for expansion as part of an economic diversification effort; and suggest policy options that will enable the state, its regions, and the private sector to work more effectively to build a more unified, regionally vibrant, and diversified Nevada.

Structurally Unbalanced: Cyclical and Structural Deficits in Arizona

Matthew Murray, Kristin Borns, Susan Clark-Johnson, Mark Muro, Jennifer Vey, Brookings Mountain West & Morrison Institute for Public Policy

Abstract: Though the Great Recession may be officially over, all is not well in Arizona. Three years after the collapse of a massive real estate “bubble,” the deepest economic downturn in memory exposed and exacerbated one of the nation’s most profound state fiscal crises, with disturbing implications for Arizona citizens and the state’s long-term economic health. This brief takes a careful look at the Grand Canyon State’s fiscal situation, examining both Arizona’s serious cyclical budget shortfall as well as the chronic, longer-term, and massive structural imbalances that have developed largely due to policy choices made in better times. This primer employs a unique methodology to estimate the size of the state’s structural deficit and then explores the mix of forces. The brief suggests some of the steps state policymakers must take to close their budget gaps over the short and longer term.

Structurally Unbalanced: Cyclical and Structural Deficits in California And The Intermountain West

Matthew Murray, Kristin Borns, Susan Clark-Johnson, Mark Muro, Jennifer Vey, Brookings Mountain West & Morrison Institute for Public Policy

Abstract: Post-Recession economic recovery is slow and tentative, particularly in California and much of the Intermountain West. Among other challenges, the protracted downturn in these states has exposed and aggravated a huge public-sector fiscal crisis—with disconcerting implications for citizens and states’ long-term economic health. This brief takes a careful look at the fiscal situation in Arizona, California, Colorado, and Nevada, examining both their serious cyclical budget shortfalls—those resulting from the recession and its aftermath—as well as the critical longer-term structural imbalances between revenues and expenditures that have developed in Arizona, California, and, to a lesser extent, Nevada. (106)


Centers of Invention: Leveraging the Mountain West Innovation Complex for energy system transformation

Mark Muro & Sarah Rahman

Abstract: America needs to transform its energy system to reduce its carbon intensity and make clean energy cheap. At the same time, the Intermountain West region (Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Nevada, and Utah) possesses a unique confluence of world-class innovation assets; varied energy resources; and unparalleled opportunities to build out next-generation energy systems. This brief proposes that the federal government begin constructing a distributed Intermountain West network of federally-funded, commercialization-oriented, broadly collaborative energy research and innovation centers. Selected competitively based on scientific merit and the strength of proposed management, financial, and commercialization plans, roughly four to six energy innovation centers could reasonably be organized in the Intermountain West with total annual funding between $1 billion and $2 billion.

Export West: How Mountain West Metros can lead national export growth and boost competitiveness

Mark Muro, Emilia Instrate & Jonathan Rothwell

Abstract: This brief shows the benefits of exporting and highlights the existing and emerging strengths—and some weaknesses—of the Intermountain West’s large metropolitan areas in global trade. Numerous metropolitan areas in the Mountain West could be well-positioned to benefit from the current national focus on doubling exports and from targeted metropolitan efforts to expand the foreign markets for their goods and services. To take advantage of their global connections and the new federal focus on exports, however, the regions metropolitan areas-particularly those that have been heavily oriented to population growth and real estate development—will have to rethink what they do and how they do it. While bolstering exports will not replace the thousands of jobs lost to the Great Recession the export of goods and services is likely to be an important source of quality and sustainable job growth for the region in the future.