Las Vegas

If you read this blog, you probably want to know the true state of play in the health care reform debate. Well, join the club. After yet another a round of phone calls on Friday, I've become convinced that nobody really knows for sure. There's a lot of activity and discussion right now. But the key discussions involve a very small circle of people--smaller, in fact, than the circle of people you see quoted in the media, even anonymously.

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With much excitement across the country, this week marked the true beginning of America’s recommitment to passenger rail service.  Eight billion dollars in stimulus funding was doled out to 31 states in every region of the country.  Those investments ranged from a massive down payment on true high-speed rail in Florida to planning grants in Kansas. However, conspicuously absent were concrete investments in the Intermountain West.  Specifically, the peanut-butter spreading missed two of the country’s 10 most traveled air corridors: Los Angeles-Las Vegas and Los Angeles-Phoenix.

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Yesterday’s release of the Case-Shiller Home Price Index has economists—and probably the Obama administration—on edge. The reason: an apparent softening of demand in October, which translated into weak home price growth across the 20 markets that the index tracks. That followed stronger, more widespread price growth in the summer months. The news has stoked fears of a “double dip” in house prices and the resulting havoc it might wreak in the mortgage market. Like the economy itself, though, what you make of U.S.

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Are regional college education rates a stay against metro unemployment in bad times?

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Las Vegas…Phoenix…Boise? Say what? That’s a frequent reaction from reporters and others looking this month at the list of especially weak performers in the first edition of the Mountain Monitor, our new Intermountain West companion of the Metro Program’s national MetroMonitor recession and recovery index. It underscores how easily it is to miss things when it comes to regional economic health. The interesting thing, in this respect, is how different Boise’s reputation has been during this decade from that of its southerly neighborhoods.

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In a nice phrase, the western writer Wallace Stegner called the Mountain West the “native home of hope.” However, for a while now at least parts of the region are also going to need another virtue as well: patience.

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What's going to happen to Las Vegas if temperatures keep rising? The city needs water, after all, and most models predict that the Colorado river will start shriveling up if the West keeps getting hotter—runoff from mountain snowpack could drop anywhere from 5 percent to 25 percent by mid-century. And that, as Lauren Morello reports, could spell trouble: For [Patricia Mulroy, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority], it is Lake Mead that tells the tale of Las Vegas' water future.

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  After four quarters of decline, GDP finally grew, and at a pace--3.5 percent annually--not seen since the summer of 2007. As my colleagues Alan Berube and Bill Galston point out, and as I argued last month, signs of economic growth don’t necessarily mean a rapid recovery, a sustained recovery, or even a recovery that feels meaningful to the vast majority of Americans. But that’s not the horse I want to ride today.

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Trouble in Beantown

A month-old labor dispute in Boston has taken a curious twist. It began when on August 31, a hundred housekeepers at three Hyatt hotels in Boston were fired and replaced by workers from a Georgia company, Hospitality Staffing Solutions. The housekeepers, some of whom had worked for Hyatt for over twenty years, were making between $14 and $16 an hour plus health, dental, and 401(k) benefits. Their replacements were to make $8 an hour with no health benefits.

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Housebound

So it looks like the housing sector will soon start contributing--a little, in some places--to the economic recovery after contributing mightily to national breakdown. According to the Census Bureau, privately owned housing starts in August rose 1.5 percent above July levels to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 589,000, which represents the fastest building pace since last November.

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