Nebraska’s low jobless rate seen as mixed economic message
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska’s unemployment rate remained at 2.8 percent in December for the fifth straight month — a figure one economist said Friday reflects good and bad aspects of the state’s economy.
The rate reported by the state Labor Department places Nebraska well below the national preliminary December unemployment rate of 3.9 percent — a rise of two-tenths of a point from November — and keeps it among the 10 lowest state rates in the nation.
“Other things equal, low is better than high,” said Creighton University economist Ernie Goss. “The fact that it’s been flat for several months, you could read that as a good thing. Overall it is a good thing.”
But he also said unemployment is just one indicator of economic health.
“In Nebraska, you would like to have more workers for work that could aid in the expansion of the economy,” Goss said, adding that employers have been moaning about their need for bigger staffs to meet product demands.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln economist Eric Thompson said the figures released Friday are further evidence that the state is reaching full employment.
The low rates Nebraska has enjoyed over the years reflect “the quality of our workforce, and we just don’t have a lot of people who spend a lot of time unemployed,” Thompson said.
The consistent result of the math involved to show a 2.8 percent rate for five straight months reflects the seasonal adjustment process, the state Labor Department said. That process removes known historical seasonal patterns so that actual economic, nonseasonal shifts can more easily be seen, said department spokeswoman Grace Johnson.
“When the smoothed, seasonally adjusted (rate) doesn’t move much, like we saw in Nebraska in 2018, it means that there weren’t any ongoing events significant enough to shift the unemployment rate,” Johnson said.
Goss said he expects a higher rate in January as the partial government shutdown spreads to private employers.
Nebraska’s nonfarm employment in December was 1,037,475 — up 12,525 over the year and down 3,740 over the month. Private industries with the most growth year over year were professional and business services, up 4,080; manufacturing, up 3,396; and leisure and hospitality, up 3,207. Month to month the largest gains were seen in financial activities, up 900; other services, up 148; and information, up 23.
The preliminary Omaha-area rate for December rose to 2.7 percent from 2.5 percent in November. The new rate was a tenth of a point lower than the 2.8 percent of December 2017. Lincoln’s preliminary rate rose a tenth to hit 2.3 percent, compared with 2.2 percent in November. The year-ago figure was 2.5 percent. Grand Island’s preliminary rate for December was 2.8 percent, up two-tenths of a point from November’s 2.6 percent. The December 2017 figure was 3.1 percent.
The unemployment rates for Grand Island, Lincoln and Omaha have not been seasonally adjusted, so they cannot be directly compared with the state unemployment rate.
Here are preliminary area labor market unemployment rates for December, followed by the November rates:
— Beatrice: 2.9, 2.3
— Columbus: 2.4, 2.3
— Fremont: 2.5, 2.2
— Hastings: 2.7, 2.4
— Kearney: 2.3, 2.0
— Lexington: 2.9, 2.3
— Norfolk: 2.3, 2.0
— North Platte: 2.8, 2.5
— Red Willow: 2.2, 1.9
— Scottsbluff: 3.2, 3.0