Unemployment in Nebraska hit 8.3% in April — the highest rate on record — as the efforts to contain the coronavirus sidelined tens of thousands of workers.
The Nebraska figure released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday topped the previous recorded high of 6.3%, and it’s close to triple the 2.9% rate the state recorded just two months earlier in February.
But Nebraska continued to fare better than most of the country. Its rate for April was the third lowest among the states, slightly higher than Connecticut and Minnesota.
Iowa’s rate also hit a new peak and topped double digits at 10.2%. The national rate was 14.7%.
Records for state unemployment go back only to 1976, so it’s not known if unemployment today exceeds that seen during the Great Depression of the 1930s. In the period covered by the records, Nebraska’s highest unemployment rate was 6.3% in January and February of 1983. More recently, in January 2010, Nebraska’s rate spiked to 4.9% during the Great Recession.
Both Nebraska and Iowa remained in far better shape than states like Nevada (28.2%), Michigan (22.7%) and Hawaii (22.3%).
At the other extreme, Connecticut was at 7.9%, and Minnesota was at 8.1%.
In the Omaha metro area, the unemployment rate hit double digits in April at 10%. The Grand Island area was at 11%, and Lincoln hit 9.3%.
Nebraska’s unemployment rate in March was just 4%, as the economy had only just begun feeling the impact of the state’s restrictions on gatherings, which were intended to slow the spread of the virus. Those restrictions had the effect of closing and limiting thousands of businesses across the state, and Nebraska’s unemployment rate more than doubled to the April record level.
Other states also had restrictions, some of which were more strict than Nebraska’s. The 4.3 percentage point increase in Nebraska’s unemployment rate between March and April was the smallest increase in the country.
In recent weeks, Nebraskans have continued to file new unemployment claims — in lower numbers than during the initial surge of claims but still at above-average rates.
“April’s unemployment numbers show the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the hardworking people of Nebraska,” Gov. Pete Ricketts said in a statement. “It also shows that Nebraska has been able to protect our health care system while also protecting the livelihoods of significantly more families than other states.”
The unemployment rates are based on a monthly survey taken by the bureau.
Estimated total non-farm employment in Nebraska fell by 86,300 between March and April, from 1,030,000 to 943,700.