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Should Las Vegas worry about declining population?

Patrick Blennerhassett, Las Vegas Review-Journal on

Published in News & Features

LAS VEGAS — Clark County should be preparing for declining birth rates and decreased immigration now, as the nation’s population is expected to peak in less than 60 years.

“We’re projecting that the population is going to peak in 2080 as a result of net fertility and immigration,” U.S. Census Bureau Director Robert Santos said in a recent interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “So when you put those two together, we are going to grow until 2080 and then it is going to decline through to the end of our projections in 2100.”

The census estimates the country’s population will peak at 370 million residents in 2080, however by 2100 the entire U.S. population could be only 9 percent bigger than it is right now in 2024.

While these numbers may seem far off, multiple local demographers and population experts told Review-Journal that the state of Nevada and Clark County should be preparing for a declining population.

Census statistics show Nevada grew approximately 66 percent from 1990-2000, however that growth slowed to 15 percent between 2010 and 2020, the slowest growth for the state in the past century. The state’s population grew by roughly 30,000 annually between 2020 and 2022, but growth estimates for 2022 and 2023 show that annual number dropped to around 17,000 or 0.5 percent.

The median age of the average Nevada resident is also rising, as it went from 35 in 2000 to 38.6 in 2020, but Nevada is still the 18th youngest state in the nation.

UNLV’s latest annual 2024-2060 Population Forecast has Clark County’s population growth dipping below 2 percent in 2027 and below 1 percent by 2039. By 2060, the county will only be adding around 15,000 residents annually, for 0.5 percent growth.

Attracting new residents because of affordability, jobs

Andrew Woods, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at UNLV and one of the authors of the report, said right now Clark County has a leg up on a lot of places in terms of attracting residents given its affordability.

“We are still a very popular place for particularly Californians to move to, and we get a good influx of people from Arizona and Illinois. And so 60 percent of our population growth is coming from out of state,” he said. “It’s really important for us to talk about economic migrants, they’re coming here for work and they’re coming here for economic purposes, such as a lower cost of living. And so we’re not like most of the nation where we’re on this gradual decline yet in terms of population growth. We’ve got a lot of people still moving here and they are voting with their feet.”

 

Woods said leisure and hospitality (which includes food and accommodations) will continue to drive job growth and employment numbers in the next 1o years, however added health care has started to push its way to the top of the list in the valley, signifying the overall U.S. population will continue to age as the baby boomer generation spills into retirement.

Planning for a declining population

Many countries farther along the demographic pyramid, such as South Korea and Japan, where birth rates have dramatically fallen, immigration is stagnant and their populations are already declining, have started implementing policies to try and entice couples to have children. Woods said when this trend eventually makes its way to Southern Nevada, we should be in a good position to attract the right people to keep our economy afloat.

“I would say the big drivers of that issue are the fundamentals around the types of jobs that you’re offering to couples so that they can and would have that flexibility to take care of kids and raise a family,” he said, noting a complete ecosystem needs to be in place to entice people to create families such as schooling, transportation infrastructure and affordable housing.

“And I don’t think we’re really thinking about those things as a whole right now,” he added. “We tend to think of it as being very siloed and there’s a lot of research that shows it’s not just one magic thing that gets families to have children or more children.”

Las Vegas currently finds itself in the middle of a housing crisis, as prices have continued to rise steadily since this time last year, and are getting close to breaking record high home prices that were set during the pandemic. Stakeholders say the government needs to do more to release land for development, however Brian Bonnenfant, project manager for the Center for Regional Studies at the University of Reno, Nevada said at some point, the entire country’s real estate industry will go through a monumental, unprecedented shift.

“People need to realize this is what we are marching to, we talk about affordable housing and housing supply in 50 years, you’re not going to have to worry about a house. There could be plenty of houses, there could be too many houses.”

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