Want jobs? Nebraska reforms have more people working, fewer on welfare and food stamps

Pete Ricketts has said his parents taught him a simple truth: Every job is important, so whatever you do, be the best you can be at it. As governor of Nebraska, Ricketts is living that lesson by setting a standard for governors around the country with policies that make it easier for Nebraskans to get back to work.

Under Ricketts’ leadership, Nebraska has made giant strides in removing barriers to work and entrepreneurship. He’s made it easier for more people to find jobs, and he’s made it easier for businesses to create lots of good jobs. The results have been undeniable – Forbes recently ranked the state as the fourth-best place to do business.

Why should you care about this if you don’t live in Nebraska? Because Ricketts’ success in Nebraska can serve as a roadmap that other states can follow to get people working by moving them more quickly from unemployment to reemployment, transitioning able-bodied adults from welfare to work, and removing unnecessary barriers to work by recognizing the needs of employers.

By focusing on re-employment rather than unemployment, Nebraska has gotten so many people back to work that the state has its lowest unemployment rate since 1999, and boasts one of the nation’s lowest unemployment rates.

Better still, the number of workers who exhaust their unemployment benefits has dropped by 30 percent – even during times when the state’s unemployment rate has increased. That’s a powerful sign that the system is working as it should, serving as a temporary safety net for workers who are actively looking for – and finding – new jobs.

Workers finding jobs faster means fewer unemployment claims. In fact, the total number of benefit weeks claimed dropped by a fifth between 2015 and 2016 alone.

As a result of this commonsense approach, Nebraska saved nearly $14 million in 2016 by reducing the number of unemployment benefit payments it handed out – just from getting people back to work faster.

And because the state government is spending less money, it can take less from taxpayers. This is why Nebraska is cutting its unemployment insurance tax, a move that will generate over $17 million more for businesses to spend on even more hiring, plant expansions, research and development spending, and creating future jobs.

The state’s focus on re-employment extends to welfare programs, as well – a welcome change from the course of dependence that so many states have chosen in the past.

Nebraska requires able-bodied childless adults on food stamps to work, train, or volunteer at least part-time. And a new pilot initiative connects able-bodied adults on food stamps with job training from the Department of Labor to help them find jobs with higher wages and benefits.

Participating families were able to increase their annual income by more than $10,000 on average, and half were able to end their dependence on food stamps entirely. The benefits are threefold: families move off welfare and become self-sufficient, taxpayer resources are preserved for the truly needy, and newly available workers are able to fill open jobs.

The governor and the Nebraska Legislature have also tackled barriers to work created by occupational licensing. Nearly 25 percent of Nebraskans need the government’s permission to do their jobs – from barbers to nurses. Ricketts saw another way that provides a pathway to work, not a roadblock. Last year, Nebraska enacted a law allowing spouses of active military service members who are stationed in the state to ensure their nursing licenses are honored.

In addition, the state has considered other measures that would make Nebraska more competitive for workers and businesses alike by reducing red tape surrounding work.

All work has dignity – and work is the best way to lift a family out of dependence and poverty. In Nebraska, thousands more are living their own American Dream because of the leadership and results of Gov. Ricketts.