By Associated Press - Friday, March 27, 2020

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska’s unemployment rate for February remained unchanged at 2.9%, a figure that officials said doesn’t yet reflect the unemployment claims that skyrocketed nationwide due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The preliminary February rate is down 0.2 percentage points from the February 2019 rate of 3.1%, according to a Nebraska Labor Department report issued Friday.

“These numbers indicate how strong the economy was in February before the COVID-19 pandemic developed,” said Labor Commissioner John Albin.

Unemployment claims rose to nearly 16,000 last week from a little less than 800 the week before, according to a federal report released Thursday. The new number shattered the previous state record of 4,003 in a single week.

Thousands of people were laid off as nonessential businesses closed or scaled down as part of the effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

The new jobless claims could begin to show up in next unemployment report, which is scheduled to be issued April 17, said department spokeswoman Grace Johnson.

The national seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for February was 3.5%, down a tenth of a percentage point from the January rate of 3.6% and three-tenths from the February 2019 rate of 3.8%.

Nebraska’s nonfarm employment was 1,023,012 in February, up by 12,585 over the year and up by 1,958 over the month. Private industries with the most growth year over year were professional and business services, up 3,882; leisure and hospitality, up 2,982; and education and health, up 2,894. Month to month, the largest gains were seen in education and health, up 1,604; leisure and hospitality, up 1,340; and manufacturing, up 834.

The preliminary Omaha-area unemployment rate for February was 3.1%, down a tenth from January, the report said. The Lincoln-area preliminary rate was unchanged at 2.7% and the Grand Island-area rate dropped to 3.5% last month from 5% in January.

Unemployment rates for Grand Island, Lincoln and Omaha have not been seasonally adjusted, so they cannot be directly compared with the state unemployment rate.

Here are preliminary area labor-market unemployment rates for February, followed by the January rates:

- Beatrice: 3.5%, 3.7%

- Columbus: 2.8%, 2.9%

- Fremont: 2.9%, 3.1%

- Hastings: 3.2%, 3.6%

- Kearney: 2.5%, 2.5%

- Lexington: 3.0%, 3.1%

- Norfolk: 2.9%, 3.0%

- North Platte: 3.3%, 3.5%

- Red Willow: 2.9%, 2.9%

- Scottsbluff: 3.3%, 3.6%

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