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VICTOR JOECKS: Red states outperformed blue states in jobs recovery

Finally recovering all the jobs Nevada lost during the pandemic and accompanying shutdowns isn’t something worth bragging about. Red states, such as Arizona and Florida, accomplished that months ago.

Earlier this month, Nevada reached a new high in employment, according to the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation. In June, the state had 1.45 million jobs. That was 3,000 more than Nevada had in February 2020. By state data, Nevada has recovered all the jobs it lost due to the coronavirus and business closures.

“Nevada’s economy passed another benchmark this month,” Gov. Steve Sisolak said. He continued, “We will keep working to keep Nevada moving forward.”

It’s great to see jobs returning. But it was Sisolak’s heavy-handed mandates that kept holding Nevada back. Just compare employment in red states and blue states.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics measures unemployment in two ways. In the above statistics, Nevada DETR used “Current Employment Statistics.” To compare between states, I used Local Area Unemployment Statistics. That data set includes self-employed and agricultural workers, which CES doesn’t.

The local area numbers show Nevada still hasn’t fully recovered. In February 2020, Nevada employment was just under 1.5 million. In June 2022, it was 1.45 million. That’s 46,400 jobs off the peak.

That means employment in Nevada is 3.1 percent below where it was in February 2020. That’s 45th worst in the country. Among the 10 lowest states, eight were led by Democrats through the pandemic. Democrat Ralph Northam was governor of Virginia, ranked 43rd, before Republican Glenn Youngkin won in November 2021. Even the two states on that list with Republican governors through the pandemic, Maryland and Vermont, are blue states in federal elections.

The 10 states that gained the most jobs, as a percentage of February 2020 employment, include eight with Republican governors. That list includes Montana, which replaced a Democrat governor with a Republican in November 2020. Of the top 20, 15 have Republican governors. Interestingly, the four highest states are Nevada’s non-California neighbors: Utah, Idaho, Oregon and Arizona.

Then look at when states surpassed the employment numbers they reached in February 2020. States with GOP governors had much faster recoveries. By May 2021, 11 states had as many people employed as before the pandemic. Eight of them have Republican governors. Among the top 20, 15 have Republican governors.

Then there are 22 states and Washington D.C. whose employment numbers haven’t fully recovered. Democrats led 14 of them during the pandemic. Three of the states with Republican governors — Vermont, Maryland and Massachusetts — are reliably blue otherwise.

The trend holds when you look at total employment. States with Republican governors gained 1.32 million jobs since February 2020, an increase of 1.85 percent. States led by Democrats throughout the pandemic, and Washington, D.C., lost 751,000 jobs. That’s a 0.87 percent decrease.

It’s not hard to figure out what happened, both in Nevada and nationally. Overall, blue state governors imposed harsher restrictions on businesses, including shutdowns. Those forced closures continued as red states moved to reopen months before blue states.

Needlessly extending restrictions also kept many blue-state residents in a state of near panic. It sent the message that it wasn’t safe to resume normal activities, even after vaccines were widely available. Go figure, that puts a damper on hiring.

Plus, many people voted with their feet. They left restrictive blue states for the freedom — such as in-person learning for students — offered by red states.

The numbers confirm the obvious. Like many other blue state governors, Sisolak’s choices deepened Nevada’s economic pain. He should be apologizing for Nevada’s job numbers, not boasting about them.

Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Opinion section each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Contact him at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.