Nebraska ranks 37th for rate of labor force that works from home

By: - August 16, 2023 12:00 pm

Nebraska ranks 37th for rate of people in the labor force who worked from home, 12.3%, says an analysis based on U.S. Census data by the Center for Public Affairs Research, University of Nebraska at Omaha.(Courtesy of UNO CPAR)

OMAHA — Nebraska ranks 37th among states for the share of those who work from home — a low-end showing fueled by the high number of low-wage jobs that don’t allow for the flexibility of remote working.

That’s according to a report by the Center for Public Affairs Research at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, which showed an estimated 12.3% of working Nebraskans doing their job remotely.

Working at a home office or kitchen table, away from the traditional worksite set-up, has increased in Nebraska and across the nation since the pandemic, a UNO researcher says. A related report showed Nebraska ranking 37th among states for the share of labor force that works from home.  (Getty Images)

Furthermore, said primary researcher Josie Schafer, the analysis debunks a notion that developed during COVID-19: That the pandemic might steer population away from crowded states and into a less-congested Nebraska.

That hasn’t panned out, she said, at least not as of 2021.

“The idea of, ‘I’ll live in Nebraska for the quality of life but work for a Silicon Valley tech company’ — I don’t see it in the data,” Schafer said.

Rather, she said, survey responses indicate that most people who live in Nebraska but work for a business out of state are commuting, often across the Missouri River to Iowa, rather than working remotely.

Ranking reflects workforce mix

The UNO research center prepared the report, based on 2021 U.S. Census information, for a local foundation, and recently shared it publicly.

A caveat, said Schafer, is that phrasing of the census query could have led to an undercount of remote workers. But that would apply across the board, she said, so rankings are valid.

In Nebraska, as well as nationally, the rate of the labor force that works from home has risen since pre-pandemic years, Schafer said. The Husker state’s 37th ranking reported in the UNO analysis, she said, “has everything to do with our workforce mix.” 

More people work in low-wage jobs (584,242) than high-wage jobs (433,166), she said, citing other census data sets. Low-wage in this case is defined as less than median pay.

A UPS worker on his daily rounds in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

“We have more people that work in the type of jobs that require in-person work than the type of jobs that allow for remote work,” Schafer said. 

For instance, careers in areas such as information technology, architecture, business and finance can take work home with a computer.

But food preparation, cleaning, health care support and farming are job types that demand an in-the-field presence.

“And that is where most of our economy is,” Schafer said.

Nebraska-Iowa commute

Among other report highlights: 

More people live in another state and work in Nebraska (roughly 43,347) than live in Nebraska and work in another state (roughly 26,182). 

Take the Nebraska-Iowa connection. Nearly 29,000 people are estimated to live in Iowa and work in Nebraska. On the flip side, roughly 17,000 Nebraska residents are estimated to work in Iowa.

Besides Iowa, neighboring states of South Dakota, Kansas and Colorado host the largest number of Nebraska workers.

The report’s findings, Schafer said, could provoke questions about Nebraska’s quality of life, availability of housing and job opportunities. 

She said policy leaders who have requested labor information from her office have been interested in the dynamics and trends of remote, in-office and hybrid work, particularly since the pandemic. They’re seeking answers to Nebraska’s workforce challenges and unmet demand for workers.

“They’re wondering,” Schafer said, “is our workforce not here because they’re working for some other out-of-state company, is that the challenge?”


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Cindy Gonzalez
Cindy Gonzalez

Senior Reporter Cindy Gonzalez, an Omaha native, has more than 35 years of experience, largely at the Omaha World-Herald. Her coverage areas have included business and real estate development; regional reporting; immigration, demographics and diverse communities; and City Hall and local politics.