The COVID-19 pandemic drove unemployment to a high not seen since World War II. In April 2020, the figure reached 14.8%, according to the Congressional Research Service. That was up from 3.5% in February 2020. As COVID-19 numbers have slowly dropped (with some interruptions of large spikes), the jobless rate dropped to 4.6% in October. The improvement almost certainly was triggered by huge federal government investments to restart the economy.
As has been the case throughout the period that the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has collected jobless data, figures vary widely from state to state and city to city. In its “State Employment and Unemployment — October 2021” report, the researchers pointed out that “Nonfarm payroll employment increased in 25 states and the District of Columbia and was essentially unchanged in 25 states in October 2021.”
Industries in some areas recover faster than others. In several metro areas, the unemployment rate is above 8%, and in one it is over 18%. In terms of states, in October, the highest unemployment rate was 7.3% in California and Nevada. California is the largest state by population, so it is hard to pin down one cause for its figure. Nevada, on the other hand, has one main industry (gambling and hospitality) that provides hundreds of thousands of jobs. COVID-19 has caused the shuttering of much of the gambling industry.
The state with the lowest unemployment rate in October was Nebraska at 1.9%. According to The Wall Street Journal:
Nebraska’s unemployment rate ticked down to 1.9% last month, well below the national jobless rate of 4.6% and the lowest for state records tracing back to 1976, Labor Department data show.
Why? There is no single explanation. The economy of the state is driven, in part, by agriculture. Food shortages have boosted this industry. The Offutt Air Force Base employs over 5,000 people and is one of the largest employers in Omaha. The city also has two large health care providers: Nebraska Medicine and Methodist Health System. Financial companies employ several thousand people.
What is certain is that Nebraska has been among the states with the lowest jobless rate for years. Under current circumstances, it is hard to imagine how and why that would change.
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