SHERIDAN — Despite stubborn unemployment statistics and a slower than desirable recovery, Wyoming’s economy is nothing if not stable.
According to recent figures from the state’s economic analysis division, the state remained on track for a steady economic recovery throughout the fourth quarter of 2012.
Still, economic growth in the Cowboy State looks to have slowed since earlier measurement periods. Employment grew by only 320 jobs in the fourth quarter of 2012, much weaker than during the first half of the year.
Many sectors — including mining — experienced losses in total employment. Specifically, the extractives industry saw a workforce decline of about 4.3 percent.
Economists blame weak prices for coal and natural gas for the losses, but many said they remain hopeful that continuing improvements in the natural gas and Powder River Basin coal markets will turn things around in 2013.
Senior economist at the economic analysis division David Bullard said that while unemployment figures late in 2012 might not have been ideal, the worst of the recession looks to be a thing of the past, at least for now.
“It seems that things have leveled off and are pretty stable at this point,” he said.
In fact, Wyoming’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate held steady at 4.9 percent every month between December 2012 and February 2013 — the most recent month for which statistics are available.
Bullard said that while the mining industry has indeed experienced significant losses, gains in other fields have help offset the total employment picture.
“Other sectors have helped make up the difference, but that still leaves us flat,” he said.
In the months to come, Bullard said Wyomingites can expect an increase in the total number of jobs added across the state, but it remains to be seen whether that will translate into a decrease in seasonally adjusted unemployment.
“At the county level we certainly expect unemployment rates to fall as we go into the summer months,” he said. “That’s the normal seasonal pattern through August or September usually.”
Although questions remain, state economists said that recent inflation, while slightly higher than the national average, is on track to keep local prices of consumer goods in line with most of the rest of the country.
The state experienced a 2.1 percent increase in inflation from the fourth quarter of 2011 to the fourth quarter of 2012, according to a state study. Nationwide, inflation rose by 1.7 percent during that same period.
The state study also calculated a comparative cost of living index, ranking Wyoming counties based on price levels in consumer goods categories including apparel, medical, housing, food, recreation and transportation.
Locally, Sheridan County registered a CPI just 1 percent higher than the statewide average.
Senior economist Amy Bittner said a slowdown in area mining activity may have led to a dip in housing prices and helped keep Sheridan near the middle of the rankings.
“Housing plays such a large part of a consumer’s budget,” she said. “(Sheridan County may) just not be seeing as much of the economic activity as it has in the past.”
Across the rest of Wyoming, Teton County registered a consumer price index of 30 percent higher than the state average while, on the opposite end of the scale, Platte County registered a CPI 14 percent below the average.