SHERIDAN – Statewide unemployment has remained stable, according to the latest report from the Research and Planning section of the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services, but the state’s labor force continues to dwindle.
Unemployment rose from 3.8 percent to 3.9 percent, which David Bullard, the senior economist in the Research and Planning Division who wrote the report, said is a minor variation consistent with Wyoming’s unemployment rate over the past year and a half; Bullard said the state’s unemployment rate has hovered between 3.7 and 4.2 percent over the past 17 months. However, the report also showed 6,869 people, or 2.3 percent of the state’s workforce, moved away between August 2017 and August 2018 which perpetuates an alarming trend for the state and provides an important context for the state’s relatively low, stable unemployment rate.
“The decrease of the labor force, in a way, helps keep unemployment low,” Bullard said. “…If people didn’t leave, the unemployment rate would probably be higher.”
Goshen County experienced the largest labor force decrease in terms of percentage, with 582 workers, or 8.2 percent of the county’s workforce, leaving. Bullard said he is not sure yet what prompted that population loss.
Sublette County, meanwhile, saw a slight increase in its workforce, which Bullard said was mostly due to economic growth from the oil and gas industry.
Earlier this year, Dr. Wenlin Liu, the chief economist in the Wyoming Department of Administration and Information’s Economic Analysis Division, published a report that showed Wyoming experienced its largest population loss in nearly three decades between 2016 and 2017.
At the time, Liu said the population loss could be explained by Wyoming seeing lingering effects from the state’s massive economic downturn between 2015 and 2017 while neighboring states, such as Colorado, have experienced steady economic growth. Bullard said that explanation likely still holds true.
“Recently the statewide job growth has been pretty modest, less than 1 percent,” Bullard said. “In contrast, some of our neighboring states — Colorado, Utah and Idaho — have seen very strong job growth, between 2.5 and 3 percent.”
Liu pointed out that there is another trend working against Wyoming, though.
“Since the financial crisis finished in 2009 or 2010, populations increase in big cities a lot faster than the average cities or towns,” Liu said. “For many years, people moved to suburbs from central cities. But since 2010, it’s bigger central cities increasing faster. That’s not a big positive for Wyoming; we don’t have big cities.”
Sheridan County did not significantly break from the statewide trends. The county’s unemployment rate decreased slightly, from 3.5 percent in July to 3.3 percent in August, which Bullard said is typical of summer months, when more jobs related to recreation and tourism are available.
Locally, the labor force decreased by 464 people, or 2.9 percent of its workforce, between July and August.
The full report is available on the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services website.