About 20 percent of workers seeking unemployment insurance in Wyoming don’t live in the state, according to March data released by state economists.
Many of them came here as part of an itinerant workforce, ready to make a living in oil and gas fields, coal mines or related services. But when those jobs dried up, they went back home to Oklahoma, Texas or Colorado, and continued to receive their unemployment dollars from Wyoming.
It’s an interesting side note in the story of Wyoming’s boom and bust economy.
“We haven’t had a boom or a bust in two years, but when that economic activity is picking up, people come from other states,” said Patrick Manning, principle economist for the Department of Workforce Services, Research and Planning Division. “When it’s going down, they go back to wherever they came from.”
As the state’s economy improves, the number of workers seeking unemployment benefits has fallen. Workers have either used up their benefits or found other jobs.
Overall, the percentage of workers currently receiving unemployment insurance is down by 11 percent, or 701 fewer individuals from last year, according to the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services. The number of people filing new claims for unemployment is falling too, down by 16 percent from March of last year.
Fewer people are losing their jobs as oil and gas activity has increased over the last six months. Those who do lose work can find another job quicker, reducing both the new claims and those continuing on unemployment, Manning said.
“They drop off the continued claims,” he said. “If they find a job right away, they’re just switching jobs. They never go on unemployment.”
Wyoming’s unemployment insurance seekers are mainly diminishing in industry-central regions like Natrona, Campbell and Sweetwater counties, where the economic downturn has slowed or turned around. But while those areas with the highest numbers of individuals receiving unemployment benefits are seeing improvements, the location with consistently high numbers of people on unemployment is outside Wyoming’s borders.
Both new and continued claims are falling faster in places like Campbell County, or population centers like Natrona County, than for the out of state workers.
Two years ago, unemployment insurance claims jumped by 23 percent as key industries that employ Wyoming’s workforce slid into decline. Weak prices in the oil and gas sector and a host of pressures on the coal industry affected other areas of the job force like construction, industry services and retail trade.
Those labor pains are dropping as Wyoming’s economy finds stability. New unemployment insurance claims have fallen every month since September.
Statewide employment rose by 4,700 jobs in February compared to the previous year, largely in the mining industries, according to state records.
“We are seeing the rig count go up, that’s good,” Manning said of drilling activity in the state. “Hopefully, that’s leading to instate residents getting jobs in addition to this influx of other people.”
Still, Wyoming’s overall labor force has shrunk, and will likely continue to shrink, as a continuing impact of Wyoming’s recession in 2016.
More than 8,000 people left the state between mid-2016 and mid-2017, according to state records, the sharpest drop since 1989.