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Nevada consumer spending rises but far below norm

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RENO, Nev. (AP) — Consumer spending in Nevada rose to its highest level in five years in 2012 but continued to lag far behind the national average, according to a report released Thursday showing a wide discrepancy in economic recovery from the recession across the country.

Personal consumption expenditures jumped 28 percent in North Dakota, the largest gain nationwide, from 2010 through 2012, while consumer spending surged nearly 16 percent in Oklahoma, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis report said.

By contrast, spending rose a scant 3.5 percent in Nevada, the weakest for any state and far below the 10.7 percent national average during that two-year stretch.

The study shows consumer spending in Nevada went on a wild ride for nearly a decade, doubling from $39.5 billion in 1999 to $80.5 billion in 2007, but it fell to $76.6 billion by 2009 before slowing climbing again the next three years to a peak of $81.4 billion in 2012.

For the whole period from 1997 to 2012, Nevada's 6.4 percent growth was second only to Hawaii's 6.8 percent — half again as much as the national average of 4.1 percent.

But it truly was a roller coaster like few other states experienced — doubling the national average with 12.9 percent growth in 2004 at the peak of Nevada's housing boom, and five years later suffering a 4.6 percent decline that was three times worse than the U.S. average in 2009 when the state led the nation in bankruptcies, foreclosures and unemployment.

And while Nevada's growth from 2010 to 2012 was the nation's worst, it was one of only four places that posted a gain in 2012 compared with 2011 — 3.8 percent compared to 2 percent. The others were Arizona, North Carolina, Utah and the District of Columbia.

Home values plummeted most in Nevada, Arizona and Florida when the housing bust struck in 2006. The persistently weak consumer spending in those states underscores the lingering damage the housing bust inflicted on their economies, the report said.

Mark Pingle, an economics professor at the University of Nevada in Reno, said the study's findings are not surprising.

"The reason we would expect Nevada to be down toward the bottom is the source of the recession was a real estate downturn and Nevada got hit the hardest by that," said Pingle, who specializes in macroeconomics and behavioral economics.

"If you were punched in the face and you got hit harder, you'd get up more slowly than if you didn't get hit as hard. But once you start to get up and snap out of it, then you come up pretty quick," he told The Associated Press on Thursday.

The study found that Nevada and Arizona received the smallest income gains in the first three years after the recession ended. Salaries and other income in Nevada rose just 3.8 percent and in Arizona, 6.7 percent. The national average was 11.1 percent.

Nevada's unemployment rate also was 7.7 percent in June, the nation's third-highest. But that's down from a peak of 14 percent during the recession. In May of this year, it dropped below 8 percent for the first time since September 2008 on its way to now 11 consecutive months of job gains.

Likewise, since July 2013, taxable sales in Nevada have risen 5 percent compared with the previous fiscal year. May's numbers were 8 percent ahead of the same month a year ago.

"I think Nevada now is snapping out of it," Pingle said. He said the construction boom in Nevada leading up the recession was driven by staggering population growth at a pace difficult to maintain — the fastest rate in the nation since World War II.

"In 1960, only one state had a smaller population than Nevada — Alaska. Now Nevada ranks near the middle nationally," Pingle said. "We were growing at 4 percent per year. The national average is about 1 percent."

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