This week, Fortune Magazine ran a piece titled “How This State Ended up with America’s Lowest Unemployment Rate.” If you haven’t figured it out yet, “this state” referred to Nebraska, the holder of the title of lowest unemployment rate in the entire nation. With a 2.6% unemployment rate, the current rate for June is Nebraska’s second lowest rate recorded in more than a decade. So, how did this happen? Why is Nebraska so special? How did we escape the recession with minimal impact?
There’s a few reasons, including the fact that Nebraska escaped the recession with a smaller impact than many states. “In Nebraska, it was just a bad recession rather than a Great Recession,” Eric Thompson, director of the Bureau of Business Research at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln told Fortune. “We were hit hard by the recession, but not nearly as hard as many other states.”
In addition, Nebraska’s economy is diverse, and the agricultural boom that coincided with the recession allowed manufacturers to continue making products for a massive sector. Thanks to Nebraska’s landlocked position in the Midwest, geography allowed population growth to continue, rather than be limited by natural barriers like rivers and oceans. “In Nebraska, if demand is there, you can always just convert more farmland to housing,” says Thompson.
However, the magazine was unable to determine a really clear reason that Nebraska’s unemployment rate would be lower than say, North Dakota (whose labor force was helped immensely by the fracking boom). The most clear indicator of why unemployment is so low? Thompson says that Nebraska’s high quality labor force is one of the determining factors.
Nebraska ranks 2nd in high school graduation nationwide with a rate of 88.5%, second only to Iowa’s 89.7%. “In short, Nebraskans have good resumes in terms of education and history–these are the types of workers who generally have lower unemployment rates and also fare well during a recession. Employers try to find ways to keep such employees, and when workers with good resumes do lose their jobs, they are usually able to find one quicker,” Thompson says.
The quality labor force, as proven by the influx of manufacturers into Nebraska hoping to take advantage of high quality employees, certainly makes a difference. In addition, the Nebraska government has prioritized matching citizens with good jobs. Recently, Governor Ricketts announced Nebraska’s new re-employment system: The first of its kind in any state, the program uses one-on-one assistance to connect the 10,000 Nebraskans looking for work with the 50,000 jobs in the state’s job opening database.
The program will also require almost all job seekers to receive unemployment benefits to enroll in an individualized re-employment plan to continue to remain eligible for their benefits. It’s an important program to both help provide workers for the myriad of businesses and manufacturers searching for them, and to help the unemployed find well-paying, fulfilling careers.
Between the hardworking Nebraskans and the government’s priority of lowering unemployment, Nebraska’s stunningly low unemployment rate puts us as a frontrunner in the country. The recognition doesn’t mean that we’re finished with our mission to close the skills gap, because there is still quite a long road to finding employment for the long-term unemployed, recent graduates, and skilled workers looking for a good career. However, it’s inspiring to see that hard work and dedication can pay off in very concrete numbers. We look forward to watching that 2.6% continue to shrink!