Wyoming’s economy continues to rock to a standstill, according to a November snapshot of the state’s improving tax revenue and unemployment rates.
The state’s triple bust in its key fossil fuel sectors upset employment, income and state revenue over the last two years. But the November numbers evidence a slow stabilization, economist say.
The turnaround in sales and use tax income from the mining sector, a 72 percent increase from last November is the largest recorded gain on record, according to the Wyoming Economic Analysis Division.
The price of crude, one of the benchmarks to gauge the health of Wyoming’s economy, has improved and remained stable.
Earlier in the year, the price wavered between $45 and $50 a barrel. That range has shifted up to $55 to $60, said Jim Robinson, state economist.
Mining employment, including coal, oil and gas, has remained stable over the last few months, hinting that whatever industry demand for workers exists since the price improvements is met, he said. Job losses in 2017 were still significant, he said, but improved from last year.
“We are not quite where we were, but we are working our way back in that direction,” he said.
The state’s unemployment rate is down to 4.3 percent, compared to November of last year of 4.9 percent, the tail end of a severe slump in coal, oil and gas, according to the Department of Workforce Services.
Natrona County’s drop in unemployment is not quite as strong as the narrowing gap in coal-rich Campbell County or gas-centric Sublette County.
In the heart of Wyoming’s oil and gas service industry, unemployment remains at about 5.1 percent, down from 6.2 percent a year ago.
Campbell’s unemployment rate is down from 6 percent to 4.3 percent. Sublette is down to 4.2 percent compared to 5.2 percent in November 2016.
It may be that the Casper area is holding onto its workers, particularly the younger working populations, simply because it has more to offer, said Wenlin Liu, a state economist.
“Younger workers may leave an area with small population more quickly after losing jobs than in bigger cities,” he said in an email.
County comparisons are not apples to apples, said Tony Glover, manager of the Research and Planning division of the Wyoming Economic Analysis Division.
The unemployment figures aren’t adjusted for predictable changes in the regional employment by season. Teton County, which did not get hit by the economic downturn in fossil fuels, had the highest unemployment rate in the state in November, up from 3 percent in October.
There are other variances that impact the numbers, said Glover.
In Campbell County, the labor force appears to have contracted more than in Natrona, he said. There are simply fewer people that are actively looking for work but unable to find a job, he said.
Fewer unemployed are not necessarily a sign that people are back at work, he said.
Unemployment in counties with an economy based on fossil fuel industries have improved as people have left the state, found new work or stopped looking, he said.
The number of unemployed workers in Campbell County still seeking benefits is down by 74 percent from 2016, according to state records. Natrona has about 56 percent fewer people continuing their unemployment benefits.
“My guess is that Natrona County has for the most part lost the jobs from mining that they are going to lose,” Robinson said. “Whether or not there are still some families that are still trying to find a job, I don’t know.”
An earlier version of this article had incorrect statewide sales and use tax data. Wyoming sales and use taxes increased by about 16 percent from 2016 to 2017. The mining sector alone increased by 72 percent.