Nebraska is the best place in the world because of our people. Our people are hard-working, loyal, and family-oriented, and are constantly striving to make Nebraska the best place in the world to live, work, and raise a family. Our work ethic is reflected in national rankings: Nebraska has one of the highest labor force participation rates. Since 2014, our state has ranked third best out of all states for wage growth. And we consistently have tens of thousands of job openings in any given month along with one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation.
This week, Labor Day is a celebration of the unparalleled work ethic and unique Nebraska grit that lies at the foundation of the Good Life. Throughout the year, my team works to connect Nebraskans to great job opportunities. We have launched three major programs that are helping get Nebraskans back to work more quickly and connecting young people to great career opportunities.
At the Nebraska Department of Labor, we have transformed the state’s unemployment program into a first-in-the-nation reemployment program. 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. With the help of the Legislature, people will no longer be able to quit their job to go on unemployment benefits.
These reforms are producing great results for Nebraskans. 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 national and industry awards, while putting Nebraskans back to work more quickly.
Because this program has been so successful, we are now utilizing it in partnership with the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to help families on food stamps find better job opportunities. The program started with a pilot in Grand Island and expanded to Hastings, Columbus, Norfolk, and Scottsbluff over the last year. The program has helped participants achieve greater stability, a higher income, and less reliance on government assistance for those who participate and successfully complete it. We have helped 36 percent of participants find a new job, and those families have increased their pay by approximately $10,000. Each of those families has reduced or eliminated their need for food stamps. Over the next year, we will be expanding the program to North Platte, Sidney, and Lexington.
For young Nebraskans, we have launched a program to help connect middle schoolers to great opportunities in the fields of manufacturing and information technology. 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. This year, we announced new partnerships with schools in Norfolk and Deshler.
DYTI is making a difference. Research shows that students involved in similar programs show increased interest and are more likely to pursue careers in STEM fields. Over the past few years, DYTI has resulted in higher student enrollment in science and technical courses among incoming high school freshmen, as well as greater interest in pursuing technical careers after graduation.
As we work to grow Nebraska, these are just a few of the ways we are helping connect Nebraskans of all ages with great job opportunities. We will continue to innovate and look for new ways to help develop our people. If you would like to share your perspective on how your community is developing your workforce, please contact me by emailing [email protected] or by calling 402-471-2244. I look forward to hearing your stories!