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Looking for a job in the West? Try Alaska, Nevada or Wyoming

The Associated Press
LAS VEGAS – For 10 years, Bryan Davis has trudged through dusty construction sites and prepared new Las Vegas homes for insulation. Before residents even move in, he's off to work in another neighborhood. He is never unemployed.

Life is good for construction workers in Nevada, the fastest-growing state in the country, where homes are cranked out in assembly-line fashion. In the past three years, construction jobs here have increased by 16,000 or almost 19 percent, according to estimates of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But Nevada is a bright spot in a national economy that has lost 2.2 million jobs since President Bush took office in January 2001 – the worst job-creation record of any president since Herbert Hoover.

The western counties of Magic Valley are a similar bright spot, with hearty construction and overall job growth.
The West has fared slightly better than the rest of the country, led by job growth in Alaska, Nevada and Wyoming.

From January 2001 to January 2004, the West's job loss was less than half the national rate, and the West accounted for the top five states in job growth

"It's some testament to the West that in general the states have done a little bit better," said Richard Wobbekind, an economist at the University of Colorado-Boulder. "It shows they have a little bit more balance than they did in the past."

February saw a slight upturn in jobs in the West that exceeded the national improvement from the month before, but the pattern was typical for that time of year. The 13 Western states added 161,500 jobs, a 0.6 percent increase, topping the country's 0.4 percent growth. All but one Western state had increases – Wyoming lost an estimated 300 jobs. Alaska had the most robust February growth rate at 1.4 percent, or 4,100 jobs.

Colorado had the most dismal job report – down 97,300 jobs or 4.4 percent the last three years. The recession and dot-com fallout hit that state hard – a 26.7 percent loss in information jobs. Colorado, Oregon, Utah and Washington each lost jobs in six of nine categories, mostly because of layoffs in construction, information and manufacturing. California and Idaho had losses in five categories.

Jobs in manufacturing, information, natural resources, mining, trade, transportation and utilities are hard to come by in the West. Colorado, Oregon, Washington and California are the worst places to look for a job.

Utah had a meager job growth of 0.1 percent, but that's little consolation to electrician Boyce Christensen of American Fork, Utah. He's been out of work since November and has only worked 12 months in the past two years.

He used to earn $23 an hour, but now borrows from his mother and retirement savings to make his mortgage payments. Food comes from a food pantry. He took away allowances from his four children and they no longer get birthday presents.

"I stay busy," said Christensen, 39. "I'm doing yard work, planting my garden so I've got some more food to eat."
Christensen blames his unemployment on out-sourcing of jobs and Bush.

"I honestly think if we get George Bush re-elected again we can just wipe the whole middle class off the United States," he said.

One reason the West had more jobs than the rest of the country is because it is less reliant on manufacturing than the Midwest, said Jeff Chapman, analyst for the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. Washington, Colorado and California still had substantial losses in that category, but the West's job diversity helped it avoid even more.

So where are the jobs?

Go West, and put Nevada and Wyoming at the top of the job hunt. Those states added jobs during the last three years in seven of nine sectors. Alaska, Arizona and Hawaii weren't far behind – six of nine industries adding jobs between January 2001 and January 2004.

Leisure-hospitality and government are the main sources of new jobs. Every Western state except Colorado showed growth in hospitality jobs. Only Montana lost government jobs. Many jobs are fueled by the huge population boom in the West. From 1990 to 2000, the region had the largest growth in the country – 19.7 percent, to 63.2 million people.

"Population growth is probably the No. 1 factor that creates a dynamic economy," said Lee McPheters, associate dean at Arizona State University's business school. "What is making the West still more dynamic than the rest of the country is people are willing to come to the West and start anew, perhaps a new business."

It's not gangbusters, he said. But it's better than most places.

But economists say the industries doing well are ones that don't pay well.

"There's jobs being added in leisure and hospitality in those states," Chapman said. "The jobs that pay better – manufacturing and information – those still haven't rebounded."

After being out of work since May 2003, Steve Brooke, a site acquisition specialist and right-of-way agent, finally decided he had to leave Colorado because there were no jobs in telecommunications. He's blown through his savings, lived on credit cards and taken a truck-driving job to earn money for Christmas.

He blames out-sourcing of jobs and overspending by telecommunication companies.

"They were just trying to build out so much faster. There's just so much fiber out there, nobody's using it. They just all ran out of money."

He has started a new job in San Diego, but the effect of his unemployment lingers.

"I was once doing really good," Brooke said. "I had about $30,000 in savings and no debt. Now that's not the case. We're about the opposite. I've got about $30,000 in debt."

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