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BNSF Railway Havelock shop (copy)

Carman Jeremy Wozny attaches a handle on a railcar at the BNSF Railway Havelock shop. Nebraka's unemployment rate in March, 2.6 percent, is the lowest since 1998.

Nebraska’s preliminary unemployment rate for March was 2.6 percent, seasonally adjusted, the lowest in the nation for the second month in a row and the lowest for the state in 17 years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The state's jobless rate is down 0.1 of a percentage point from the February rate of 2.7 percent and down 0.8 of a percentage point from the March 2014 rate of 3.4 percent.

“Nebraska has not seen an unemployment rate of 2.6 since 1998,” said Commissioner of Labor John H. Albin in a news release.

Eric Thompson, an economist and director of the Bureau of Business Research at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, was impressed.

"There has been so much change and restructuring in the U.S. economy since the year 2000. It is heartening to see that the Nebraska unemployment rate is down at a level last seen during the late 1990s," Thompson said in an email. "It suggests that the Nebraska economy has successfully adapted to the changes in the national and global economy. As time passes, hopefully we will see other states achieve the same thing."

The Lincoln area's jobless rate for March was even lower, 2.3 percent, down 0.1 of a percentage point from February and down a full percentage point from a year earlier. The local work force, an estimate of jobs in the Lincoln Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes Lancaster and Seward counties, was 186,612, up 3,553 from a year earlier.

As of February, Lincoln had the lowest unemployment rate of any metropolitan statistical area, 2.4 percent, followed by Ames, Iowa, at 2.7 percent. MSA comparisons for March will be released later this month.

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Nonfarm employment in the state, an estimate of jobs, reached 993,453 in March and is up by over 12,000 compared with last March. Ninety-one of Nebraska's 93 counties had a lower unemployment rate in March than they had in March 2014. And average earnings, measured by the hour or the month, were up more than 5.5 percent over the year. 

Nebraska was also among nine states that lost construction jobs during the past 12 months, according to data reported by the Associated General Contractors of America. Nebraska lost 600 construction jobs in the past year, or 1.6 percent, according to AGC.

AGC blamed the construction industry's job losses on declining demand for oil projects, and on Congress for not deciding how to pay for infrastructure improvements.

Nebraska's jobless rate has become the lowest among the states since the crash of oil prices and the abandonment of some rigs sent North Dakota's rate higher, now 3.1 percent.

Payrolls dropped in 31 states in March, led by a slump in energy producers such as Texas, Oklahoma and North Dakota. That's the biggest number of states losing jobs in a month since September 2010.

The seasonally-adjusted national unemployment rate in March was 5.5 percent, unchanged from February and down 1.1 percentage points from the March 2014 rate of 6.6 percent.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7241 or at dpiersol@journalstar.com

Twitter@RichardPiersol

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