An Uncertain Future
Virginia Street is the yellow brick road of Reno, Nevada. A long walk down, and you will see both prosperous and dark corners of the biggest little city. While the road travels through a university, across beautiful foothills and quaint suburban living areas, it also traverses washed up casinos, torn down buildings and dangerous neighborhoods. These dramatic differences seen on a single road illustrate the growing problem of income inequality in the city as well as the entire country.
“People more and more are segregated based on their neighborhoods,” says Elliot Parker, an economics professor at the University of Nevada, Reno. “So instead of being a wealthy man in a small town which you grew up in, wealthy people tend to move into neighborhoods with other wealthy people.”
Caughlin Ranch, a neighborhood lined with elegant three-story houses, is in the top 90 percentile of household income and education in the United States, while Sun Valley, only 10 miles away, is a mix of trailers and foreclosures that is holding on in the bottom 20 percent.
“There are fewer average people. There are fewer average neighborhoods,” Parker says.
A town of 225,000 people on the eastern edge of the Sierra Nevada, Reno was hit hard by the economic recession. As it struggles to recover, it is clear the emerging economy increasingly relies on an educated work force. The divide between Reno’s neighborhoods in education and income means that Nevada workers are entering the labor force at different points in salary and income.
“Most states have income tax. We don’t. Most states have profits taxes for corporations. We don’t,” says Parker. “As a result that tends to attract people who are trying to avoid taxes. People who aren’t paying taxes aren’t paying for infrastructure like education. So we are a low tax, low service state.”
In the past, Reno had little demand for an educated work force. With plentiful entry-level positions in casinos and construction, young people could land a well-paying job straight out of high school. Now that casinos and construction are no longer economic giants (even if they still have some influence), demand for skills is changing. The city is seeking to attract employers in fields like renewable energy, health care and a host of entrepreneurial fields. However, without the state funding for education, there are not enough skilled workers to attract employers.
As Reno’s economy continues this balancing act, gaps in income and education continue to grow between neighborhoods. A new generation of workers is entering the workforce in an uncertain and changing economy.
Will they continue the trend of entering the job market straight out of high school? How does their neighborhood affect their ability to go to school or get work? Are they optimistic about this uncertain economic climate? What are they doing to break out of these hardships? There are so many questions about this new generation of workers where the answers are left blank. This is the Blank Generation.