SHERIDAN — Wyoming’s falling unemployment percentages coupled with a larger than average workforce participation rate shows that the state’s economy is significantly healthier than the national average.
While each figure can serve as an independent indication of overall economic vitality, the two together compensate for any potential misperceptions related to job availability.
Sheridan County’s latest unemployment rate is 4.1 percent. The number is slightly higher than the statewide average of 3.8 percent for the month of May. Nationally, it’s 6.3.
According to a press release from the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services Research and Planning section, it is normal to see unemployment rates raise slightly in May because students leave school and enter, or attempt to enter, the workforce. The largest unemployment increases in the state were in Albany, Laramie and Sweetwater counties.
Over the course of the last year, unemployment in Sheridan County has decreased at the third fastest rate of all counties in the state, down from 4.9 percent last year.
County-by-county statistics are not available regarding workforce participation rates in Wyoming, but the statewide cumulative average in 2012, the most recent year for which statistics are available, was 69.1 percent.
Today, the national workforce participation rate is 62.8 percent, the lowest it’s been since 1978.
The workforce participation rate encompasses people who are both employed and those looking for work. On a national level, drops in the overall unemployment have been attributed to decreased workforce participation because job seekers became frustrated and stopped looking for jobs during the recent economic recession.
Senior Economist for DWSRP David Bullard said that doesn’t appear to be the case in Wyoming. While the state’s participation rate has also dwindled slightly since its recent peak of 71.6 percent in 2009, it’s still well above the national average.
“There’s a higher percentage of our population out there working or looking for work,” he said. “That’s a sign of a healthy economy.”
Bullard said the labor force participation statistics are determined by assessing the employment status of all people over the age of 16. Even with an aging population and more people nearing retirement, Wyomingites are more likely to be working or looking for work.
“Some of that is driven by the nature of the state,” Bullard said. “A lot of people move here to work, rather than to retire.”
Bullard said that while the overall trend of workforce participation shows diminished numbers across the board, the statistics look vastly different when broken into gender demographics.
In 1978, 50 percent of women were working or looking for work. Today, that number is 57 percent nationally. For men, the national percentages were 78 percent in 1978 and 61.9 percent today. In other words, men are working less and women are working more.
Bullard also said economic recessions tend to instigate a spike in college attendance among young people, which equates to lower labor force participation rates.
“Young people will choose to work rather than go to college if there aren’t a lot of high paying jobs available,” Bullard said. “When that balance changes, they choose school.”
Though the national and local economies have fluctuated in the past few years, one consistent trend is that Wyomingites are more likely to want to work.
“Wyoming’s workforce participation has practically always been higher than the U.S. It may reflect the type of people who live here and the work ethic they have,” Bullard said.