A view of downtown Cheyenne. Wyoming’s unemployment rate has fallen as the state population grows to more than 580,000. (Cliff/flickr — click to enlarge)
A view of downtown Cheyenne. Wyoming’s unemployment rate has fallen as the state population grows to more than 580,000. (Cliff/flickr — click to enlarge)

Wyoming unemployment rate drops as population grows

By Gregory Nickerson
— May 20, 2014

Wyoming’s unemployment rate has dropped to levels not seen since the recession began to affect the state in 2008. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers show that Wyoming’s unemployment rate has dropped to 3.7 percent, the same level it was in November 2008. As the jobless rate drops, Wyoming is seeing historic levels of growth as more people move here to work in industries outside the traditionally dominant energy sector.

While other states started feeling the recession December 2007, the recession came late to Wyoming. When energy prices dropped drastically in autumn 2008, Wyoming’s unemployment rate shot up, reaching  a peak of 7.5 percent between in January 2010. It has been on a slow downward trend ever since.

“A lot of our economy is tied to energy prices, which are a lot of times set in the world market. So when energy prices are high we tend to do well,” said Dave Bullard, an economist with the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services. “Oil prices have remained fairly high and we’ve benefited from that.”

The declining unemployment rate does not necessarily mean that there are fewer unemployed people in the state. In January 2008 there were 7,739 people without jobs, and today 11,619 Wyoming residents are still without jobs.

Instead, the unemployment rate is dropping because Wyoming’s overall population is growing. Between 2010 and 2012, nearly 20,000 people moved to Wyoming, giving the state a growth rate of 3.4 percent.

Since the turn of the century, Wyoming’s population has been on a steady growth curve, particularly in its five largest cities: Cheyenne, Casper, Laramie, Gillette, and Rock Springs. Each of these towns added between 3,500 and 4,600 new residents from 2008 to 2012, for a total of 20,586 new residents in those towns alone. (See graphs below.) Towns with under 20,000 residents have also seen modest growth.

The size of Wyoming’s workforce and its emplyment numbers crossed historic thresholds this year. (United States Bureau of Labor Statistics — click to enlarge)

The rising population has brought more workers and more jobs to Wyoming. The workforce has increased by nearly 20,000 people since 2008. The number of available workers surged to 310,000 for the first time in state history in early 2014.

Overall, Wyoming is employing nearly 13,000 more people today than in July of 2008, with the total number of employees exceeding 300,000 last month. Never before have so many people found work in Wyoming.

Surprisingly, Wyoming’s new jobs aren’t necessarily in the natural resources and mining sector, which has declined in employment numbers over the last five years despite a turnaround in energy prices and a boom in oil drilling in the southern Powder River Basin.

The number of people working in natural resources and mining dropped from 29,300 to 26,700 between 2008 and 2013, according to state records. The construction sector fared even worse, losing some 6,500 jobs since 2008 to reach 21,600 workers by the end of 2013. Retail trade lost 2,300 jobs over the same period.

Other sectors lost a few hundred jobs or remained nearly flat since 2008. These include wholesale trade, manufacturing, finance and insurance, professional and business services, accommodation, and information.

The largest growing job sector in Wyoming 2008 and 2013 is local government (3,200 jobs). That sector includes education (1,200 new jobs) and hospitals (600 new jobs). The state also gained jobs in healthcare and social services (2,000 jobs), and food services (800 jobs), and transportation/warehousing (500 jobs). For details on Wyoming’s employment data, click here.

Gov. Matt Mead said the decreasing unemployment rate is a sign that Wyoming is moving in a positive direction.

“This demonstrates Wyoming’s economy is strong. Wyoming’s trend of increasing wages and one of the lowest poverty rates in the nation, along with low unemployment, show we are on the right path,” Gov. Mead stated in a press release. He then singled out several recent economic development projects as examples of job creation.

“Our private sector is growing. New projects like Microsoft’s data center expansion, Magpul’s manufacturing facility, UL’s technology center, the oil to rail loading projects and others across Wyoming are underway. There is a great opportunity in Wyoming now,” Mead stated.

Without taking into account jobs from rail loading projects, the three businesses Mead mentioned will account for roughly 200 permanent jobs when they are fully established.

Magpul, a manufacturer of high-capacity gun magazines, said it would bring about 90 jobs to Wyoming, after accepting state and local incentives of roughly $17 million. Underwriters Laboratories expects to bring a minimum of 25 jobs to Laramie, according to reporting by the Laramie Boomerang.

Cheyenne Leads CEO Randy Bruns told the Casper Star-Tribune that the current Microsoft data center provides upwards of 50 jobs onsite and through related employment. The data center expansion will provide roughly 400 temporary jobs during construction, with a smaller number of permanent employees once the center is up and running.

Wyoming towns over 20,000 dominate growth

Wyoming towns under 20,000 growing more modestly
— Gregory Nickerson is the government and policy reporter for WyoFile. He writes the Capitol Beat blog. Contact him at greg@wyofile.com.
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Gregory Nickerson

Gregory Nickerson worked as government and policy reporter for WyoFile from 2012-2015. He studied history at the University of Wyoming. Follow Greg on Twitter at @GregNickersonWY and on www.facebook.com/GregoryNickersonWriter/

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3 Comments

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  1. How much of the firmament in Wyoming’s suspiciously low unemployment status is owed to political patronage and good old fashioned Nepotism ?

  2. Would Wyoming be better employment wise and perhaps above the national average if the state had invested in, courted and welcomed renewable energy companies with better tax breaks, etc? Texas and California are great examples of seeing the writing on the wall without getting bogged down in ideology dictated by oil, gas and coal.

  3. The story of population and employment growth looks very positive, although the headline statistic might well be that the number of unemployed increased by more than 50%.

    The real story emerges in comparing Wyoming to national and regional trends. According to data from the Kansas City Federal Reserve (Published in the Rocky Mountain Economist in Q1 2013), Wyoming’s population and job growth are below trend for the United States and other states on the front range of the Rocky Mountains. While the state’s modest growth in recent years might be reason for optimism, the real question is why Wyoming’s growth in population and employment lags so far behind the nation and the region.

    If one were to analyze the state as a business, an exercise popular among some Wyoming legislators, the appropriate question to ask is why the state is performing so far below potential. And if one were to continue that analysis, it would be difficult to escape some examination of Wyoming’s insistence on squirreling away billions of dollars in accounts held and invested out of state rather than investing locally.