OTHER VOICES: Surprisingly Low Unemployment Rate in Nebraska Highlights Need for More Workers | Opinion
OMAHA WORLD HERALD
We are grateful and in awe of Nebraska’s economic state at this point in the coronavirus pandemic – but also recognize the warning signs that dare not be ignored. We have jobs for workers, but not enough workers for our jobs.
How can the people of Nebraska not boast of the lowest U.S. state unemployment rate on record since data collection began in 1976?
November’s 1.8% unemployment rate – down even from October’s record 1.9% – comes with one of the highest labor force participation rates in the country. Urban unemployment, not seasonally adjusted like the state count, is even lower.
We agree with Governor Pete Ricketts’ assessment that the record reflects “the unwavering resilience and work ethic that defines us as Nebraskans.”
It’s hard not to celebrate this, including the fact that it reflects enough diversity in the state’s economy to withstand downturns.
But we also agree with economists, including Ernie Goss of Creighton University, who told the World-Herald earlier this month: “We are below what is optimal, in my opinion, in Nebraska. In other words, we would probably like to see a higher unemployment rate. “
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It’s healthy to see people move from one job to another, Goss said, and to see turnover in the workforce.
Full employment is generally considered to be 3-4% unemployment, allowing transitions between jobs or after completing a level of education, for example. University of Nebraska-Lincoln economist Eric Thompson believes an unemployment rate of 2.5% would be healthier for the state.
Clearly, our microscopic unemployment rate reflects the state’s acute labor shortage, which was a challenge before the pandemic.
Here is the mismatch today: 18,127 Nebraskans were among the ranks of the unemployed in November, actively seeking work. At the same time, state data showed 50,546 job openings.
This makes it extremely difficult at best for the meaningful growth of a sole proprietorship or the state economy.
We see the impact in our daily lives, with restaurants limiting hours or closing.
Nebraska needs to attract workers, period.
When the Legislature meets next week for a 60-day session, one of its core tasks is to allocate a federal COVID relief windfall exceeding $ 1 billion.
Policymakers can find ways to use some of this money to take proactive measures that can attract and welcome new workers, such as affordable housing and broadband needs. They must avoid immersing themselves and the state in cultural warfare issues that divide and are irrelevant to economic progress.
Nebraska is an underrated, entrenched and strong center of the nation. We have to stand in the center and show that it is a wonderful place to work and live. What it is.