An equipment operator works Sept. 27, at the site of a new home in an east Casper subdivision. Unemployment numbers across the state have dropped, but construction jobs were down 8 percent in the spring of 2017 compared to the previous year. 

Alan Rogers, Star-Tribune

Wyoming unemployment numbers, which spiked during the recession, dropped throughout the year as part of the workforce left the state for greener pastures and the industries they left behind began to improve.

Unemployment fell from 4.8 percent two years ago to 4.2 percent last month, according to a report put out by the Department of Workforce Services, Research and Planning Department Friday.

“These numbers are solid evidence that the energy sector is coming back,” said David Bullard, senior economist at the department.

The report focuses on labor changes in Wyoming between the spring of 2016, a low point in Wyoming’s key fossil fuel industries, and the spring of last year, when those industries were showing signs of improving.

Average monthly employment fell by 3,308 jobs, year over year, about a 1.2 percent drop. Conversely, payroll increased by nearly 2 percent during that period, by $56 million. More than half of the payroll bump came from the mining sector, said Bullard.

Jobs in mining, which includes oil and gas jobs, were up 918 positions last spring. The rig count climbed to 25 around that time, up from seven the previous June.

The positive news from mining was offset, however, by large decreases elsewhere, particularly in construction. Construction jobs were down 8 percent from spring of 2016 to spring of 2017, a loss of more than 1,700 jobs.

“I think we understand fairly well what is going on in oil and gas,” Bullard said, referring to the gradual improvements in that area that continue today. But other sectors have not rebounded in kind.

“Construction may still be adjusting to the downturn,” he said. “The numbers I’ve seen don’t suggest that construction has found a bottom yet.”

Some counties in particular had significant increases in employment due to oil and gas improvements, he noted.

Sublette County, home to a number of large gas fields, added 170 jobs between the second quarter of 2016 and 2017, a nearly 5 percent increase.

“It doesn’t sound like much, but 4.4 percent is really fast growth,” he said.

Natrona County, the center of the oil and gas service sector, found itself in the same dilemma that the state faced, Bullard said.

While oil and gas jobs in Natrona County improved between mid-2016 and mid-2017, construction, government and retail trade all fell, leaving the county at a net loss year over year.

The oil and gas sector is clearly better than it was during the downturn, Bullard said. But there is still room for growth compared to what’s considered normal in Wyoming for employment and employment income in that sector.

Follow energy reporter Heather Richards on Twitter @hroxaner


Energy Reporter

Heather Richards writes about energy and the environment. A native of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, she moved to Wyoming in 2015 to cover natural resources and government in Buffalo. Heather joined the Star Tribune later that year.

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