April 27, 2015

Nebraska’s lowest unemployment rate dips a bit more

Nebraska’s unemployment rate, already the lowest in the country, dipped slightly last month.

The state Department of Labor announced the preliminary unemployment rate for March was 2.6%, down ever so slightly from the February unemployment rate of 2.7%.

The Nebraska unemployment rate is half a percentage point better than the North Dakota unemployment rate of 3.1%, which has increased due to a softening of the oil industry. Utah ranks third with an unemployment rate of 3.4%, followed by South Dakota at 3.5% and Minnesota at 3.7%.

The national unemployment rate in March stood at 5.5%.

Nonfarm employment in Nebraska reached 993,453 in March, up by over 12,000 compared to last March, according to the Nebraska Department of Labor.

Employment growth occurred in education and health services, professional and business services, and financial activities.

The Omaha metropolitan area had an unemployment rate of 3.1%. Lincoln checked in with an unemployment rate of only 2.3%.

Nebraska economy sustains growth

opendocument[1]Nebraska remains on track for economic growth, according to the latest survey conducted by the Bureau of Business Research at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Director Eric Thompson says the survey of Nebraska businesses has shown consistent growth.

“This is the fourth consecutive monthly increase, suggesting the Nebraska economy should be solid throughout the rest of the year,” Thompson tells Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KLIN. “So, positive reading from the leading indicator.”

Thompson says Nebraska’s Leading Economic Indicator is again up for March with Nebraska businesses optimistic about both sales and hiring.

“There also was a turn-around in single-family housing building permits,” according to Thompson. “So, even after adjusting for seasonality, those were up in March as well. So, some positive indicators for our economy.”

Agiculture continues to lag, though.

Thompson says a stronger dollar has put pressure on crop prices and limited the economic growth of row-crop farming.

Thompson says the fact that the indicator is up for a fourth straight month suggests the state economy will continue to grow through 2015.

Jane Monnich, KLIN, contributed to this report.

AAA: Gas prices may drop toward $2 a gallon by summertime

gas-pump-111Nebraskans may not have to budget as much money for driving during the upcoming summer vacation as they did last summer.

Gail Weinholzer, at AAA-Nebraska, says all signs point to stable or lower gas prices in the months ahead.

Oil refineries have switched from the winter blend to the summer grade of fuel and there’s already an abundance of crude oil and refined oil, keeping gasoline prices low.

“There’s no reason to expect any significant increases, and in fact, we may actually see a slight decrease as we approach $2 a gallon perhaps, as we head into the summer driving season,” Weinholzer says.

She says the fuel cost forecast is based on what’s known right now.

“There’s always some exceptions to that should anything significant happen to the oil fields in the Middle East. Once we get into the summer season, of course, we always have to keep an eye on the hurricanes in the Gulf,” Weinholzer says. “Aside from those two things, the increased supply and relatively stable demand will keep prices low.”

The national average for gas is now $2.38 a gallon, while it’s $2.36 in Nebraska. That statewide average is down from $3.61 a year ago, or, lower by a $1.25 a gallon.


Financial scavenger hunt opens April 15th with $1,000 prize

Dash for the StashA contest will be launched in Nebraska and four other states next week that offers to bolster players’ financial literacy while offering a chance to win a $1,000 prize.

Joanne Kuster is the multi-state coordinator of Dash for the Stash, which sends people to their nearest public library starting April 15th to find a series of four posters that offer advice about things like investing for retirement.

“The point is, you read a poster, you scan a QR code and it leads you to a question that you answer,” Kuster says. “Now, in a scavenger hunt, you’re usually picking up and collecting things, but in our hunt, you are collecting investor education information and leaving your answer.”

The goal is to impart some financial knowledge in a fun way. Dozens of libraries are taking part in the contest, but Kuster says you should first log on to www.iinvest.org to make sure your local facility is participating. Then, you can head to the library in person to find the four posters.

“Topic #1 is finding a good financial advisor and how you sort that out,” Kuster says. “Number 2 is investment fees and what you think you should be paying, or shouldn’t, and some clues on that. Number 3 is investor fraud because there’s so many ways that people like to have you part with your money, and number 4, building a nest egg.”

Iowa first hosted the contest last year as a pilot project and it’s being expanded this year to Connecticut, Illinois, Missouri and Nebraska, as well as the District of Columbia.

One winner in each state — who answers all four questions correctly — will be chosen at random and awarded $1,000 to open or add to an Individual Retirement Account, or IRA. The contest winners will be named on May 16th.


Nebraska businesses optimistic about next six months

Nebraska business owners and executives tell a University of Nebraska survey they’re optimistic about the next few months.

Bureau of Business Research Director Eric Thompson with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln reports on the latest survey of business attitudes about the next six months.

“Nebraska businesses have positive expectations for sales, but they continue to have very strong expectations for adding employment,” Thompson tells Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KLIN. “This suggests that this will be a good year in terms of job growth in Nebraska.”

One in five respondents to the March Survey of Nebraska Business expects to add employees over the next six months. Only four percent expect to cut jobs.

Half the respondents expect steady sales growth. Only 22% expect sales to go down. The sales outlook improved from the results in January and February.

The surveys are sent each month to 500 randomly selected Nebraska businesses. In March, 145 businesses responded.

One segment of the economy is holding Nebraska back: agriculture.

Crop prices have declined, according to Thompson, hurting farmers financially as well as the businesses which rely on farm sales. The slump is evident in the survey results.

“The larger cities, especially the Omaha area, but also Lincoln, there’s relatively positive outlook and in the more rural areas of the state, businesses have more moderate expectations,” according to Thompson.

For more on the survey, click here.

Jane Monnich, KLIN, contributed to this report.