It is no secret to Nebraskans that we have the best place in the world to live, work, and raise a family. As our team works to grow Nebraska, we share the story of the Good Life with businesses and job creators. The most important part of our pitch to them: Nebraska has the best people – we are innovative, loyal, hardworking and family-oriented.
These characteristics are the foundation of our state’s success over the years. Because of them, our unemployment rate is the fifth lowest in the nation. We have one of the highest labor force participation rates. Nebraska ranks third best out of all states for wage growth over the last few years. And we consistently have tens of thousands of job openings in any given month.
While this is a great success story, it also means we need to work together to keep growing. Right now, many job creators across our state are challenged to fill the thousands of openings, in part because of our low unemployment rate. Many Nebraskans would like to seek a new opportunity, but they do not know where to begin. To help keep these great-paying jobs in our state, I have made workforce development a priority with my team. Through three initiatives described here, and many others, we are helping connect Nebraskans to great opportunities and helping job creators identify the talent they need to grow Nebraska.
In the area of manufacturing and information technology, we have launched a new program to help expose middle schoolers to great opportunities in these fields. In 2015, I worked with the Legislature to create the Developing Youth Talent Initiative (DYTI). As more jobs become available in these fields, we need to do more to make the next generation aware of these great opportunities and share the technical skills and knowledge they require. By establishing partnerships between businesses and school districts, DYTI provides career exploration and hands-on learning opportunities geared toward seventh and eighth graders. Right now, we have programs running in Broken Bow, Hastings, Hebron, Kearney, Omaha, Scottsbluff and York. We will soon be announcing new partnerships for 2018.
Through our first-in-the-nation reemployment system, we are helping Nebraskans who are already in the workforce gain the skills needed to achieve their career goals. Three years ago, the Nebraska Department of Labor (DOL) transformed our unemployment system into a reemployment system. Here is why it is working: Nebraska now requires all individuals seeking unemployment benefits to create a searchable, online resume, meet with a job coach, and apply for jobs multiple times a week. This individualized program helps each person to develop a reemployment plan tailored to their skills and career goals.
We are seeing great results. The number of individuals exhausting their unemployment benefits is down nearly 37 percent. The number of weeks claimed for unemployment benefits is down 23 percent. This is having a positive effect for taxpayers. We have been able to reduce the unemployment insurance tax rate by over 25 percent, saving Nebraska’s job creators nearly $20 million in 2017. All of this has led to winning industry awards, putting Nebraskans back to work more quickly, and gaining national media attention.
We are also helping Nebraska’s families who rely on food stamps to find better opportunities and become more financially independent. DOL and the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services have teamed up to leverage our reemployment services for food stamp recipients who want a better job. We have rolled out this program in Columbus, Grand Island, Hastings, and Norfolk. So far, we have been able to help a quarter of the families who have signed up, and they have seen an average salary increase of $10,250 due to their participation.
All of the families we have helped have either reduced or eliminated their need for food stamps. It is a win-win-win: A hardworking Nebraskan gets a better job, a company gets a quality teammate, and taxpayers save money. This is how government should work. Better jobs are giving program participants more financial independence and greater freedom to spend time with their families.
These are just a few examples of how we are helping Nebraskans achieve their dreams and connect them to some of the thousands of great opportunities around our state. This work is critical to the future growth of our state. If you have ideas on how we can develop Nebraska’s workforce, I hope you will take the time to share them with my team. Give my office a call at 402-471-2244 or email me at email@example.com. We look forward to hearing from you.
Pete Ricketts is the governor of the State of Nebraska.