Closer look at Nebraska’s unemployment numbers

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March 18th, 2011

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Lincoln, NE – Nebraska’s unemployment rate continues to decline. The latest Nebraska Department of Labor report shows January unemployment at 4.2 percent, a small drop from the previous month and significantly lower than the peak of five percent during this recession.

Nebraska's unemployment rate is currently the second lowest in the nation (Photo credit Wikimedia)

In fact, Nebraska’s unemployment rate is the lowest in almost two years. State Commissioner of Labor Catherine Lang said there are other positive signs of recovery in the latest figures.

“Our numbers for January 10 to January 11 showed some strong stabilization,” Lang said, “which is a good thing. So, for example, we are 14,000 more jobs over the year in total.”

This includes a gain of 4,900 jobs in business and professional services, an area Lang said was significantly hard hit by the recession. Another positive sign actually comes in the form of a decline in the number of jobs from December to January. Lang said that’s normal, as temporary jobs added for the holiday season come to an end. But the decline this time was the lowest in five years. Lang cautioned, though, that we shouldn’t expect a quick return to pre-recession unemployment rates of less than three percent.

“I think we’ve all been put on notice from all of the economic brain power in our country that this was going to be a long and slow recovery,” she said.

One of those economists tracking Nebraska and the Midwest is Ernie Goss of Creighton University. Every month he offers perspective on the economic situation from surveys of bankers and supply managers.

“It’s showing that the state of Nebraska is adding jobs and we’re seeing that across the region,” he said. That’s “the agriculturally dependent mid-section of the country, what we call the Mid-America region. And it has been adding jobs, but just not at a level that makes anybody real happy right now.”

Goss said Nebraska might start seeing more significant job growth the second half of this year. But his optimism is tempered by two concerns. One is financial problems in several European countries. Goss said that could drive up the value of the U.S. dollar and as a result drive down ag commodity prices. His other concern is energy prices.

“If oil prices got back up to 2008 levels, which got up to $147 a barrel back in 2008, if we got that returned to that level, that would derail my optimistic output of increasing employment.”

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