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New economic data out this morning shows initial weekly jobless claims came in much lower than expected, with 576,000 Americans filing for first-time unemployment benefits last week. The U.S. also saw a 9.8% jump in retail sales for the month of March, also beating expectations. Wake Up With Cheddar breaks down the numbers in real time.

State and local unemployment numbers returned to pre-pandemic levels in March.

According to data released Friday by the Nebraska Department of Labor, Nebraska's unemployment rate in March was 2.9%, down from 3.1% in both February and March 2020.

The unemployment rate in the Lincoln Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes Lancaster and Seward counties, also was 2.9% in March, down from 3.2% in February and 3.1% in March 2020.

Eric Thompson, director of the Bureau of Business Research at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said the drop in the unemployment rate "signifies that there has been meaningful recovery in the Nebraska (and Lincoln) labor market."

However, he said, Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that Nebraska employment still is down about 2% from pre-pandemic levels.

According to figures from the state labor department, there are 21,000 fewer people employed than there were a year ago and more than 17,500 fewer jobs. In the Lincoln area, there are 2,900 fewer people working than a year ago and 5,200 fewer jobs.

"This lost employment, plus additional jobs given annual growth in population, will need to be regained in order to complete the recovery of the state labor market," Thompson said.

A three-year economic forecast from the Bureau of Business Research and the Nebraska Business Forecast Council released Friday morning suggests that the state's job market won't fully recover until sometime next year.

Creighton University economist Ernie Goss said that while the drop in the unemployment rate is good news and may show that things have returned to normal, other economic indicators do not.

"Leisure and hospitality continues to hold the overall state economy down," Goss said, noting that federal data suggest the Nebraska economy is still down 3-4% from where it was before the pandemic.

Goss did say that the unemployment data jibes with other data he's seen that show Nebraska has "performed much better" than the other states in the two monthly regional economic surveys he produces.

In Creighton's April Rural Mainstreet Survey, which was released Thursday, Nebraska's index was 77.1, which was down slightly from March, but was considerably higher than the overall index of 69 for the entire 10-state region.

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On Twitter @LincolnBizBuzz.

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