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Goodbye, Vegas. It's a D.C. economy now.

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Brian Jones/Las Vegas News Bureau/AP/File

(Read caption) CityCenter on the Las Vegas Strip saw plenty of action in December 2009. But the mortgage crisis plus the recession's tool on the job market, has pushed the metro area into deep trouble. Washington, D.C., meanwhile, is on the rise.

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America's fastest-growing city not so long ago, Las Vegas has suffered a series of nasty shocks.

First, the mortgage crisis hit, putting the gambling mecca at the epicenter of a massive wave of foreclosures. Then the recession rattled the economy and stopped job growth cold.

In April, Las Vegas witnessed the largest year-over-year increase in its unemployment rate of all the metro areas tracked by the federal government. At 13.8 percent, its jobless rate is more than double the 5.9 percent of metro Washington, D.C., which has the lowest rate among the 49 largest metro areas, the Labor Department reported Wednesday.

Funny thing about Washington. By almost any economic indicator one looks at -- housing prices, economic growth -- Vegas is down and Washington is on the rise.

One can almost make a metaphor out of it: Casino-style capitalism is out; federal regulation is coming on strong.

To be fair, Las Vegas was a victim of the housing bubble, not its cause.Washington's lax monetary policy and oversight are perhaps as much to blame as Wall Street's machinations. Government has come late to the regulatory party.

The change is needed. One has only to look at the near meltdown on Wall Street or the environmental quagmire in the Gulf to justify new regulation and tougher enforcement of the rules that already exist.

Still, it's troubling for a free-market nation when its bureaucratic infrastructure is leading the recovery.

There are signs of economic growth outside Washington, D.C., of course, and even stirrings of employment growth. In April, a dozen of America's 372 metro areas and all of North Dakota saw their labor forces grow, their unemployment rates fall, and their number of unemployed residents either stay the same or decline.

They were led by smaller metros like Kennewick-Pasco-Richland in Washington State's tourist-friendly wine country and Jacksonville, N.C., home to the Marine Corps' Camp Lejeune.

When larger metros join the employment parade, then we can begin to cheer a sustainable recovery.

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