Energy Downturn Population Decline

Weeds overtake the yard of a Douglas house listed for a short sale. Wyoming’s population fell between July 2015 and July 2016.

Dan Cepeda, Star-Tribune

Wyoming’s population decreased in 2016 for the first time in almost 30 years, according to U.S. Census Bureau data released Tuesday.

The Cowboy State lost 1,054 residents between July 2015 and July 2016, the period that was measured. That decline marks the first drop in population since 1990.

The state’s energy industry laid off about 30 percent of its workforce during that period, said Wenlin Liu, chief economist with Wyoming’s Economic Analysis Division.

Liu said Wyoming’s population is especially susceptible to fluctuations based on the economy. Just 42 percent of current residents were born in the state. That’s the third-lowest percentage in the country, after only Nevada and Washington, D.C.

“Most of the population is not as attached to the state,” Liu said. “People move in and out at a higher rate than other states.”

On average, Liu said, about 5 percent of the state’s population — 30,000 people — moves in and out every year.

Liu said about 8 percent of the state’s workforce is employed in extractive industries, and many other fields are connected to the energy sector. Manufacturing, transportation and wholesale trade all feel the impacts of the decline in energy prices seen starting in 2014.

While the Census Bureau data looked at population numbers only through July, Wyoming’s economic downturn began to stabilize in August as the unemployment rate leveled out.

“Hopefully if energy prices continue to move up, sometime in the near future we may see some gradual, slow, recovery start,” Liu said.

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Wyoming Population and Net Migration 1970-2016

Follow city and government reporter Arno Rosenfeld at facebook.com/ arnojournalism

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