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Douglas County home to highest percentage of wealthy households

The Associated Press

LAS VEGAS — Ron Simek helped make Douglas County home to the some of Nevada’s wealthiest households over the past decade.

And if the real estate developer continues selling his $250,000-plus Mountain Meadow Estate lots 22 miles west of Lake Tahoe, he could be responsible for helping the county keep its status as having the highest percentage of Nevada households with annual incomes of $200,000 or more, census figures released Tuesday show.

“It just depends on the market,” said the 72-year-old founder of Tombstone Pizza, who moved to Douglas County in 1986 from his hometown of Ogema, Wis., after selling the frozen pizza company to Kraft Foods.

“The next day I was out here looking for property,” Simek said.

The northern Nevada county that borders California and boasts the state’s oldest settlement — Genoa — also has the state’s highest median annual household income at $51,849.

The number of Nevada households with the highest annual incomes in 2000 jumped more than threefold to 29,425 compared with 1990. The state’s community with the highest percentage of $200,000-plus households is Incline Village in Washoe County with nearly 16 percent.

“There’s been a steady trend of people moving out of northern California and out of Silicon Valley and into the Washoe, Carson, Douglas County area; that’s been a factor for some time,” said Keith Schwer, director of UNLV’s Center for Business and Economic Research.

Douglas County’s percentage of wealthy residents more than doubled from 2.4 percent in 1990 to 5.7 percent in 2000. Those residents included actress Kathryn Crosby, widow of entertainer Bing Crosby. Simek also sold property to Howard Charney, the former chief executive of computer equipment maker Cisco Systems.

“The majority of people moving here are from California, both north and south,” Simek said. “Others are from the Eastern seaboard and want to escape the congestion. We have a lot of couples who like to ski and golf and they like the weather. About 60 percent are second homes and about 40 percent are retired.”

The U.S. Census Bureau released a summary of a detailed survey taken by about 19 million American households — or roughly one out of every six households — as part of the census “long form.”

The median annual household income in Nevada increased about 44 percent from $31,011 in 1989 to $44,581 in 1999, census figures show. Adjusted for inflation, Nevada’s median household income rose $4,143 by the end of the decade, or about 13 percent.

In 1999, the nation’s median household income was $40,816.

Only 2.1 percent of all Nevada households had annual incomes of $200,000-plus in 2000. The highest percentage — 22 percent — of all the state’s households earn between $50,000 and $75,000 a year.

The majority of those are in Clark County, the state’s most populous county and home to Las Vegas and the nation’s fastest-growing metropolitan area. Clark County’s median annual household incomes was $44,616 in 2000.

Jeff Hardcastle, state demographer, attributes Clark County’s numbers to higher-than-average wages paid by the casino industry for low-skilled jobs, such as food servers or housekeepers and the transient nature of Las Vegas.

Rural Lyon County saw the biggest percentage increase in median household income at 62 percent, while Nye County saw the smallest at 19 percent.

“Any economic activity in rural Nevada is dominated by mining,” Schwer said, adding that Nye County is home to Pahrump, a fast-growing Las Vegas bedroom community.

The state’s poorest households are centrally located in Lincoln and Esmeralda counties, the census figures show.

Barb Cammarano blames Lincoln County’s low wages on a lack of growth.

For seven years Cammarano has owned the Silver Cafe on Main Street in the tiny, historic town of Pioche, about 175 miles north of Las Vegas.

“We don’t have any industry,” she said. “As soon as the kids are out of high school, they leave cause there’s nothing to do here.”

Lincoln County had the lowest median household income at $31,979. As in 1990, Lincoln had the highest percentages of households with incomes below $10,000 a year — followed closely by Esmeralda County.

Cammarano, 51, hopes an influx of retirees will bring more business.

“The retirees are attracted to the low cost of living and the climate,” she said. “Many are moving from Vegas cause there’s less traffic and hassle here.”

Overall, the number of the state’s households reporting annual earnings of less than $10,000 was down to nearly 7.2 percent in 2000 compared with 12 percent a decade earlier.

The new census figures show the number of Nevadans receiving public assistance was cut nearly in half from 4.7 percent in 1990 to 2.3 percent in 2000, and the amount of yearly assistance also decreased by $1,099 over the decade.


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