OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska’s unemployment rate fell to a mere 1.9% last month, which was the lowest any state has reached since data collection began in 1976, according to labor statistics released Friday.
The October rate reported by Nebraska’s labor department and the Bureau of Labor Statistics marked the first time a state’s unemployment rate dropped below 2%. Spokespeople for both agencies confirmed that Nebraska’s rate is the country’s lowest on record.
Nebraska has maintained its status as the state with the lowest rate through much of the pandemic. It’s 1.9% rate for October was down slightly from the September rate of 2%.
Nebraska Labor Commissioner John Albin said total nonfarm employment has risen by more than 30,000 from October of last year. The state reported 1,031,001 filled jobs in October, which was 10,718 more than the previous month.
Nebraska has struggled with a chronic worker shortage since even before the pandemic, and it has driven up wages and made it difficult for employers to hire and expand. Earlier this month, the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce & Industry released a survey of its members where 92% said finding skilled workers was a top priority.
“We have a lot of manufacturers across the state that are finding it difficult to expand their operations” in the face of rising consumer demand, said Bryan Slone, the chamber’s president.
Nebraska and other rural states typically have unemployment rates lower than the national average for a combination of reasons, including fewer people per job, more jobs with ties to agriculture and food production that are considered essential, and policies that discourage unemployment.
The OpenSky Policy Institute, a Nebraska-based tax policy think tank, has also argued that the unemployment rate is an incomplete picture of the state’s economic health because it doesn’t count people who have stopped looking for work. Some of those cases involve people who retired early during the pandemic or left the workforce to care for loved ones.
In Nebraska, much of last month’s private job growth was driven by the education, health care, transportation and financial industries. The leisure and hospitality sectors have rebounded as well over the last year after taking a big hit during the pandemic.
The unemployment rates have been even lower in the state’s two largest metropolitan areas, Omaha and Lincoln. The Omaha area’s rate in October was 1.7%, while the Lincoln area’s was 1.3%.
The national, seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in October was 4.6%, down 0.2 percentage points from the previous month.