On January 29th, Voices for Children released the 22nd annual Kids Count in Nebraska Report. This year’s report is our biggest and most comprehensive edition to date. Every year in the Kids Count report, we include a timely commentary providing a deeper look at an issue important to the work we do here at Voices. This year’s commentary topic was how our great state can support working families. This is the first post in a series exploring pieces of that commentary, starting today with employment and income.
Nebraska has experienced very low unemployment rates in recent years and weathered the most recent recession better than many other states. In 2014, our unemployment rate hovered around 3.6%, down from a high of 4.9% experienced in late 2009/early 2010. We are currently at our lowest rate of unemployment since late 2008 and we have the 4th lowest unemployment rate in the country. Unemployment isn’t the only factor contributing to the current workforce not meeting workers needs, underemployment must also be considered. Underemployed workers are those who would like to work full time, but due to availability of jobs or hours are only working part time, as well as workers who are discouraged or are very close to being discouraged. In the most recent estimates, 3.6% of Nebraska workers were underemployed or discouraged as of August 2014. This means that 7.1% of the workforce in Nebraska is either unemployed, or is unable to find a full time position.
Nebraska has high rates of family employment. 70.2% of children under 6 have all parents in their family in the labor force and this rate is even higher for children 6 to 17, with 77.3% of these children having all their parents in the labor force. Nebraska’s median family income in 2013 was $64,763 annually. This approximately $900 less annually than median income a decade ago, when you adjust for inflation. Nebraska has a large middle class; more than half — 57% of Nebraska families are defined as middle class, and 83% have middle or upper income. The middle class is typically defined as those living within median income ± ½ median income, so for Nebraska families in 2013 middle class would be defined as those families making between $32,381.5 and $97,144.50. While these high numbers are wonderful to see, the challenge is that overall median income has decreased and families have to work harder to make ends meet due to their reduced buying power. A thriving middle class leads to a healthy economy and job creation. A stable economy is not possible without a strong middle class.
Median income varies greatly by family type. Married couples that have children have the highest median income each year over the last decade, while single parents with children are lower, with single moms having the lowest median income of all groups. Interestingly, single men and single women without children both make more than their parenting counterparts, but married couples with children have a higher median income than married couples without children. This provides further evidence of the importance of supporting working families and ensuring that parents are able to make ends meet, especially those that are single parents. Median income also varies greatly by race and ethnicity with white non-Hispanic households having the highest median income of each racial group making nearly twice as much as the median household income of Black/African-American households at the bottom. When households of color are averaged together we find that white non-Hispanic households have income that is 1.5 times higher than households of color.
About one quarter of Nebraska workers, 25.1%, were working in low-wage jobs in 2011, 4% higher than the national average.These are jobs where the median annual pay is below the poverty line. Workers in these jobs are living in poverty, and typically do not earn benefits or paid time off to care for their families. In 2013, approximately 29,000 Nebraska workers were making at or below the then current minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. The imminent raise of the minimum wage will help these Nebraska families better support their children and hopefully reduce poverty further. Nebraska has the 5th highest rate in the country of people working multiple jobs with 7.9% of Nebraska workers working more than one job.