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Is The Black Middle Class Disappearing In Las Vegas?

Las Vegas surburbs
Is the black middle class disappearing in Las Vegas?

The general consensus is that the economy is making its comeback from the Great Recession. But the positive figures seen in the headlines might not be all inclusive.

The recession hit minority communities especially hard, and their bounce back has been much slower than that of their white counterparts. According to a study done by the Pew Research Center, the wealth of white households was 13 times the median wealth of black households in 2013.  

Even as housing prices and construction are on the rise in Las Vegas, the black middle class is struggling, especially for those with college degrees and skilled trades.

The national unemployment rate for African-American college graduates between 2007 and 2013 has nearly tripled. Further, more than half of employed black college graduates are underemployed – meaning they are holding part time jobs or jobs that don’t fit their qualifications.

The Supreme Court says racism is essentially over in the United States, but one has to wonder what is really driving these numbers.

KNPR talked to long-time Las Vegas resident James Gamble, who has several higher degrees in botany, civil engineering and environmental science yet has not been able to find work in his career since the recession.

“Here in Nevada, it isn’t what you know, it's who you know and that is killing the state” Gamble said.

Yvette Williams, chair of the Clark County Black Caucus, told KNPR's State of Nevada that she gets calls about that kind of problem all the time.

She points out that people tend to hire their own, and when layoffs happen, they tend to keep their own. 

"If an employer is cutting back, they tend to cut those black workers first,” Williams said.

She said the latest numbers from November 2014 show just how big the employment disparity is. The overall unemployment rate is 7.94 percent in Nevada, white workers are at 7.5 percent, Hispanics are at 7.7,  but African-Americans are at 17.7 percent. 

Leonard Hamilton, a consultant for minority-owned businesses in Nevada, said black-owned businesses struggle to get even capital and opportunity to really move ahead.

“If business owners can’t land a contract, they’re not going to last long,” Hamilton said.

Williams said African-Americans are leaving Nevada because they can't get good jobs.

Assemblywoman Dina Neal told KNPR's State of Nevada that she has been working on this issue since she became a lawmaker in 2011. 

She provided statistics about unemployment in the African-American community in Nevada from the Nevad Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation. In June 2007, before the Great Recession, unemployment for blacks was at  4.31 percent. Its highest point was in December 2011, when it hit 22.6 percent. It has dropped since that point to 15 percent in October 2014. 

However, unemployment for whites for the same time period is 7.6 percent and 7.8 percent for Hispanics. 

Copyright 2015 KNPR-FM. To see more, visit

James Gamble, Las Vegas resident

Yvette Williams, chair, Clark County Black Caucus

Leonard Hamilton, consultant for minority-owned businesses

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Prior to taking on the role of Broadcast Operations Manager in January 2021, Rachel was the senior producer of KNPR's State of Nevada program for 6 years. She helped compile newscasts and provided coverage for and about the people of Southern Nevada, as well as major events such as the October 1 shooting on the Las Vegas strip, protests of racial injustice, elections and more. Rachel graduated with a bachelor's degree of journalism and mass communications from New Mexico State University.