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Nevada: The best and worst place to live

Andrew Pridgen / Nevada Appeal
Cathleen Allison / Nevada Appeal file photoDr. Umasankari Sundaram checks Walter Piurek's blood pressure Nov. 7 at the Lahontan Medical Complex in Silver Springs. Nevada remains the fastest-growing older population in the United States, according to a University of Nevada, Reno, study. However, according to the 2007 study, the state is facing "critical shortages" of medical professionals.
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Do you love being a Nevadan?

Are you just visiting and thinking of a move here?

Or are you looking for a way out?

No matter where you stand on Nevada – love it or hate it – there was a statistic released this year to support your argument.

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In 2007, Nevada has topped both “best of” and “worst of” lists – the Silver State, yet again, is a state of extremes.

Take, for example, that CNN and Money magazine this year ranked Nevada as No. 2 of the top 10 states to start a company.

But the study sets a pattern – like most of Nevada’s accolades, the high ranking comes with a warning:

“Economic development officials are very aggressively working to encourage businesses to relocate to Nevada,” said Karen Kerrigan, CEO and president of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council, a nonprofit group in Washington, D.C. “Economic development officials are very aggressively working to encourage businesses to relocate to Nevada. (But) Nevada may face problems accommodating its growing population, especially given the increasing scarcity of water and other resources.”

The best and worst environmental work also is exemplified in Nevada.

First, the good: In 2007, Nevada was recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for its work making enforcement of the Clean Air Act a “top priority.”

“(Nevada took) legal action against two Las Vegas-area power plants for air-emissions violations,” an EPA report released in October said. “The enforcement actions are expected to improve air quality by significantly reducing emissions of nitrogen oxides, or NOx, and particulate matter.”

The same report also stated the EPA, in conjunction with the state, continued its enforcement at the Anaconda copper mine in Yerington, requiring an investigation of radiological and heavy metal contamination at the site.

“Nevada residents will see improved long-term environmental benefits through our enforcement efforts,” said Wayne Nastri, administrator for the EPA’s Pacific Southwest region.

The EPA report also claims to have “worked with” (which, in some cases, means reaching legal settlements) Nevada companies to help the improve the environment in 2007.

Take the $150 million settlement with the Nevada Power Company, which will require more pollution controls; the EPA mandate for the Atlantic Richfield Company to conduct an investigation to determine the extent of contamination at the Anaconda mine in Yerington; the $300,000 in fines to companies selling blacklisted pesticides Chlorpyrifos and Diazinon in Nevada – all touted as environmental successes by EPA officials.

What hasn’t been an environmental “win” this year is the further degrading of the Sierra Nevada by big ski corporations, according to watchdog groups such as the Sierra Alliance.

Resorts growing on the Nevada side of the Tahoe Basin – for example, Heavenly – buy green, or carbon-footprint, credits to offset negative ecological effects of development. They also tout renewable-energy programs such as running biodiesel shuttles. But that doesn’t necessarily help the overall environmental picture, one activist said.

“Support for renewable energy is a positive step, but it does not appear to coincide with protecting local rivers and streams, wildlife and old-growth forests,” said Ben Doon, a research director for the Ski Area Citizens’ Coalition, a Durango, Colo., nonprofit which comes out with its annual report card Saturday.

“Some of the ski industry’s worst offenders when it comes to harming local waterways and destroying habitat for wildlife have been the first to jump onboard with renewable-energy programs.”

From rising test scores to increased dropout rates, raising kids in Nevada is another case of good news being tempered with the bad in 2007.

Nevada this year had the lowest high school graduation rate in the country as reported by the U.S. Department of Education – only 56 percent of Nevada’s students graduated.

The only other states with rates below 65 percent are Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina.

As far as standardized testing goes, Nevada students saw some improvement in 2007, but that also comes with a caveat.

In September, students who took the National Assessment of Educational Progress – administered to fourth- and eighth-graders to test reading and math – found out a 70 percent increase in scores came from those who speak English as a second language.

“Despite the educational barriers faced by Nevada’s students, there have been significant improvements in performance,” said Dr. Keith Rheault, superintendent of public instruction for the state of Nevada.

The improvement was offset by Nevada’s falling, or at least not markedly improving in other testing categories, paving the way for eventual federal action under the No Child Left Behind Act.

No Child Left Behind requires public schools to show adequate yearly progress on standardized tests, with the demand that 100 percent of students demonstrate proficiency in reading, writing and math by the 2013-14 academic year.

This year, Nevada schools will have to show even better performance, because the achievement benchmarks will be raised each year as the deadline year approaches in accordance with No Child Left Behind.

The percentage of elementary school students in Nevada who must be proficient in reading and writing this year will be bumped up to 52 percent. That number has plateaued around 40 percent for the past few years.

Meanwhile, Nevada youths in 2007 were found to have higher rates of drug abuse and addiction than youths nationwide, according to reports from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

What about those aging here? Again, Nevada shows a mixed bag of results.

The good news for seniors is Nevada remains the fastest-growing older population in the United States, according to a 2007 study by the University of Nevada, Reno.

The bad news, the study said, is that the state is facing “critical shortages” of medical professionals.

“The convergence of an overburdened health-care system, inadequate resources for seniors and the sheer number of aging baby boomers is setting the stage for an aging perfect storm to hit Nevada,” said the study, titled “Elders Count Nevada: Key Health Indicators for Nevada’s Elders.”

According to the study, between 1990 and 2000, Nevada’s 65-and-older population grew 72 percent, while the number of residents 85 and older more than doubled.

From 2000-04, the state’s 65-and-older population grew by nearly 20 percent – more than five times the national rate.

The growth of Nevada’s elder population is only expected to accelerate as baby boomers reach retirement age. Seniors made up 11 percent of the Nevada’s population in 2004 but are projected to become more than 18 percent of it by 2030.

The study predicted Nevada will remain No. 1 in terms of senior population percentage growth until 2030, with an overall senior population growth of 264 percent between 2000 and 2030.

The problem is Nevada already ranks at or near the bottom of all states in terms of doctors, nurses and other health-care workers per capita the report said.

In 2007, the CDC and the Merck Company Foundation ranked Nevada as the worst state in terms of smoking prevalence among older adults, and seniors are twice as likely as those in other states to be binge drinkers.

How about safety? Morgan Quitno Press, a publisher of annual and monthly state rankings, gave Nevada its distinguished “Most Dangerous State in America” award for the third year running in 2007. The distinction is based on “rates for six crime categories – murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary and motor-vehicle theft.”

In 2007, Nevada also continued to lead the way in divorce – and marriage – rates and home foreclosures.

It slipped to the second-fastest growing state in the United States and stayed close to 2000-06 numbers in immigration – about 14 percent of Nevada is immigrants. Nevada still ranks No. 10 in the number of illegal immigrants living here, according to the Federation for American Immigration Reform.


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