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Have We Already Forgotten The Recession?


A Las Vegas home left abandoned during the recession.

In some ways, it still seems like it was just yesterday.

The Great Recession devastated Nevada.

It was so bad, state chieftains were clamoring to figure out how to prevent it from ever happening again.

“Diversification” became the buzz word. Meaning: if one sector of the economy fails in the future – say, the tourism industry – we’d be fine because we would have built up other sectors, like technology or medical services.

But Elliott Parker, an economics professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, told KNPR's State of Nevada that the state’s memory appears short-term. He’s afraid that the push to diversify – exemplified in some ways by the $1.2 billion in tax incentives to draw Tesla to northern Nevada – has been forgotten.

“There is a little bit of diversification," he said, "But by the numbers, it's not a big percentage.”

Parker and his wife, Kate Marshall—she was state treasurer during the recession—have written a book that pivots on how the state dealt with the Great Recession

“Nevada’s Great Recession: Looking Back, Moving Forward” will be released in July.

The book is an intertwining of columns Parker wrote for years during the recession, along with Marshall’s vignettes about trying to deal with and help the state move beyond the devastation as state treasurer.

Marshall’s vignettes are poignant, at times. She talks of a time meeting with state Democratic senators, where she pushed the idea of the state setting up a fund to invest in businesses; then using earnings from those businesses to support education.

When she finished, one of the senators – she doesn’t identify him – pats her on the knee and says: “Look, you’re a very nice lady, but let’s be honest, you have no idea what you’re doing. You really don’t know anything about money.”

Marshall said all she could do after that exchange was to maintain her composure until she left the building.

“Because it doesn’t help to get what you want to get for the people of Nevada to feed into those stereotypes,” she said.

Both Parker and Marshall said the state’s greatest need, and its real future lies in bolstering university and K-12 funding.

“If we want to keep smart kids in Nevada, we have to have universities for them to go to," Parker said.

Marshall said if we want our kids to dream big and go to college, then we should make sure those community colleges and universities are there for them and affordable. 

“If we’re going to say to them, 'here are the big shoes, walk in these big shoes,' they also need the opportunity to fill them,” she said.

She said the same time the state puts money into kindergarten through 12th grade it needs to put money into higher education.  

Parker believes the state is shifting too much of the burden of a college education from the state to the students. 

Elliott Parker, economics professor, UNR; Kate Marshall, former Nevada Treasurer

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Joe Schoenmann joined Nevada Public Radio in 2014. He works with a talented team of producers at State of Nevada who explore the casino industry, sports, politics, public health and everything in between.