Toni Irizarry recognizes that the economy has improved. Compared with the first wave of the pandemic, when Las Vegas went dark, and joblessness soared to levels not seen since the Great Depression, these are days of relative normalcy.
Ms. Irizarry, 64, oversees a cafe at the Orleans Hotel and Casino, a property just off the Las Vegas Strip that caters mostly to locals. Guests have returned, filling the blackjack and roulette tables amid the cacophony of jingling slot machines — the sound of money.
She started in the hospitality industry busing tables when she was only 16. Her paychecks have allowed her to purchase a home, raise three children and buy each of them their first car. But as she contemplates the future, she cannot shake a sense of foreboding.
The outlook of people like Ms. Irizarry could be crucial in determining who occupies the White House. Nevada is one of six battleground states that are likely to decide the outcome of November’s presidential election. Its economic centerpiece, Las Vegas, was constructed on dreams of easy money. That proved a winning proposition for generations of working people, yielding middle class paychecks for bartenders, restaurant servers, casino dealers and maids. Yet over the last two decades, a series of shocks have eroded confidence.
First, a speculative bonanza in real estate went spectacularly wrong, turning the city into the epicenter of a national foreclosure crisis. The Great Recession inflicted steep layoffs on the hospitality industry, demolishing the notion that gambling was immune to downturns. Then in 2020, the pandemic turned Las Vegas into a ghost town.