Bubbling Discontent
Expanded from the 2-26-2006 Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune
Updated 3-12-2006, 9-28-2011

Way back during WWII, the Office of Strategic Services, predecessor of the CIA, gathered intelligence by measuring newspaper space. For all their high-tech toys, today's tragicomic spy services still get out rulers and calculate the column-inches devoted to individual issues in newspapers around the world. It's known as content analysis.

If the free market rules our daily lives, perhaps a snapshot of help-wanted classified ads might show not only where we are, but where we are going.

Employment ads from last Sunday's Reno Kazoo-Journal could be lumped into roughly five categories, so I lumped them accordingly. Here they are, in descending order of space purchased.

  • Health care: just over one page
  • Gambling: exactly three-quarters (75 percent) of a page
  • Manufacturing and warehousing: 65 percent of a page
  • Construction, skilled trades, mechanical and heavy equipment: 42 percent of a page
  • All other types of jobs: 83 percent of one page

The above total 3.65 pages. The proportions will undoubtedly change a bit as the tourism industry gears up for summer. Maybe I'll buy a new ruler to replace the one I broke compiling all this and do it again. Maybe not.

Compared to the puny job ads, real estate linage took up a whopping 19.5 pages. This figure is not necessarily all classified because housing advertisements appeared in not only the classified section, but also as display ads in the news pages and in special sections which may fit either category. I excluded business card ads for individual realtors, so the content of the real estate ads is arguably compatible with what would appear in a segmented classified section.

Anyway you slice it, newspaper space for housing exceeded that devoted to employment ads by a factor of more than five to one. Washoe County's unemployment rate has been the lowest in the state for the past several years, hovering around three percent and sometimes less. We make booming Gomorrah South look lazy by comparison. The fastest growing community in the state is Fernley, 30 miles east of Sparks.

If employers are having a hard time finding workers, then whence the paucity of employment ads?, the website some classified ad managers warn will be the death knell of newspapers, listed 73 resumes and 887 jobs vs. 1,904 housing ads in its Reno-Tahoe section as of early Saturday morning.

I'm not privy to long-term statistics about seasonal fluctuations or ratios of various ads in the region's major newspaper, but my humble low-tech snapshot bothers the bejabbers out of me.

Nevadans once labored under the conceit that we were recession-proof thanks to our tourism industry. Recent economic downturns punctured that theory. After 9/11, northern Nevada proved much more resilient than Las Vegas because much of our tourist traffic still arrives on wheels rather than wings. Airline-dependent LV experienced a hemorrhage of layoffs in the aftermath of the terrorist airplane highjackings.

In addition, only about 17 percent of northwestern Nevada jobs, less than one in five, are dependent on the gambling industry. That's been the case for a decade or so. Our efforts at economic diversification are a demonstrable success.

But might that classified ad snapshot tell us that we are simply building a bedroom for retiree-refugees from California?


The Enemy Within

The Wages of Sin

Brittle bones of the busted boom

A couple of times last year, I noted the warning of New York Times columnist and Princeton economics professor Paul Krugman.

"The dot-com bubble was replaced by the real estate bubble," I wrote last May. "Once the housing boom busts, (Krugman asserts) that we have nothing else available to prop up a faltering economy."

Construction is currently going great guns with no end in sight. But when construction sneezes, the whole region catches a cold.

I'll follow this up in a future installment after I talk to some people whose job it is to watch this kind of stuff.

If the free market rules, and if its heartbeat may be measured by job ads, I fear we may be in danger of becoming rats caught in Prof. Krugman's economics laboratory.

TV JEEBIES. Join me and some of the usual suspects on Sam Shad's Nevada Newsmakers at lunchtime on Wednesday. The show airs at 12:30 p.m. on KRNV TV-4, with a rerun at 9:30 p.m. on Channel 12 for victims of Charter cable.

Nevada Motor Transport Association apprentice honcho Paul Enos will co-host with Mr. Shad. Their principal victim will be John Poncym, CEO of Special Operations Consulting. (Sounds like he could work for the OSS or CIA.) I'll be joined on Shad's power pundit panel by Connie McMullen, publisher of Senior Spectrum monthly, and Daryl Capurro, Mr. Enos' boss. Access the web edition of this column at for the complete statewide rerun schedule.

Merle Brennan

SEEDING THE FUTURE (7-12-1995) — Plasterers and Cement Masons Business Manager Bob Curtis, second from left, and Nevada State AFL-CIO Executive Secretary-Treasurer Claude S. "Blackie" Evans, second from right, present a $2,000 AFL-CIO/Jim Arnold, Sr., Scholarship check to the parents of Giselle Zagari (Reed High School '95), who went on to medical school at the University of Nevada-Reno. John Zagari is a longtime member of Plasterers & Cement Masons Local 241 / AFL-CIO. The award was presented at a Northern Nevada Central Labor Council meeting on July 12, 1995. Marie Zagari stands at right. (Dr. Giselle Zagari graduated from the UNR med school.)

ADIOS, BROTHER CURTIS. Sparks labor leader Bob Curtis passed away last Tuesday at age 68. He will be buried tomorrow at the Northern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Fernley. As business manager of Plasterers and Cement Masons Local 241/AFL-CIO, he was instrumental in acquiring the building which became the Northern Nevada Labor Temple on Hymer Ave.

He will be remembered as a feisty guy of strong principle. Political leaders feared his wrath when he saw workers abused through inaction by public officials. Perhaps his favorite phrase was gleaned from the defensive stands of a former Nevada attorney general.

"What's the matter, isn't this egregious enough to warrant your attention?" Curtis often asked. He enjoyed satirizing the egregious lawyerly use of imposing words.

Solidarity forever, brother.

NOW FOR SOMETHING RACY. Alan Prentiss of Carson City informs me that his uncle Merle Brennan's vintage race cars will be displayed at the Harrah Auto Museum for the next five weeks. You may view photos of Brennan's Genie MK-10 and Formula 5000 McLaren with the web edition of this column at Merle Brennan was a world-class race driver and local auto dealer. He came within a cat's whisker of an entrée to Formula One via the late Bill Harrah's close personal friendship with Il Comendatore hisself, Enzo Ferrari.

Former Nevada Assembly Majority Leader Gene Evans, D-Elko, who worked for Harrah as PR chief about 40 years ago, suggested that Harrah sponsor Brennan. For some reason, it never happened. Harrah later admitted that perhaps he had made an error. Read my January, 1996, in-depth obituary of Merle for additional details. You can see the cars in downtown Reno with the remnant of the world's greatest auto collection or at Reno-Fernley Raceway on April 22-23.

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Copyright © 1982, 1996, 2004, 2005, 2006 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 37-year Nevadan and editor of Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune since 1988.


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