Wyoming jobs are paying dramatically better in several counties than they were five years ago, according to research by Dr. Anne Alexander of the University of Wyoming.
Workers in Sublette County saw pay per job jump 37.5 percent in the years 2006-2011 to $62,231 annually in the last year of the survey.
In Sweetwater County, the average earnings per job number in 2011 was $59,497. That’s a 25 percent increase in five years. The earnings numbers were presented at Wyoming Business Alliance forums in 12 Wyoming locations from April 29 through May 10.
These numbers are not per household, but per job, and the incomes are very high in counties that benefit from energy production gains. In Sweetwater, Sublette and Campbell counties, the average annual earnings per job is more than $60,000.
In Natrona County, the survey shows that the actual increase in pay per job from 2006-2011 was $5,160 — a 10 percent increase — for total per job earnings of $54,999. The average for the state increased 14 percent to $48,820.
In explaining the high pay in Natrona County, Wyoming Business Alliance President Bill Schilling said that not only do the two largest employers in the county, the school district and Wyoming Medical Center, pay well, but North Dakota’s boom in energy jobs has affected even Casper.
“It’s an economy that the average white collar person doesn’t grasp,” he said. “There are signing bonuses and very high salaries” in the Bakken oil field boom in North Dakota.
He said that young workers in their early twenties can make more than $100,000 by working in North Dakota and commuting back to Casper for their time off. And he said that workers commute from Natrona County to energy jobs in other parts of Wyoming as well.
“If you go on Second Street in Casper any time of the day and look at all the traffic compared to ten years ago,” he said, “it’s clear that something’s driving this.”
And he explained that the growth in high-paying energy jobs has an impact on lower-paying jobs as well, creating competition among employers for workers.
But there is still an expanding gap between the higher-income and lower-income workers.
Schilling said one of the forum speakers, Esther George of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, told the forum on May 10 that America has been losing jobs in the middle range. So there are high-income and low-income jobs, but not as many middle-income jobs.
Wyoming’s economy is different enough from the national averages that researcher Alexander described it as “weird” in her presentation. A few statistics about the state stand out. Wyoming has the sixth lowest poverty rate in the U.S. at 11.3 percent; the state has the sixth highest personal disposable income per capita at $47,301.
And a troubling statistic fits in with the almost boom-like conditions of a growing economy — the average renter needs two full-time jobs at minimum wage to pay fair market rent of $772, as estimated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
In presenting these figures at the forums around the state, Schilling said that many people had stories about family members or friends traveling for highly paid jobs. But he added that the message is that the state needs to depend on more job diversity.
“The overall theme of the speakers is that the Wyoming economy is a bit challenged and if oil prices suddenly dropped, it would have an effect,” he said. “That’s why we have to continue to build in education and concentrate on economic diversity.”
Schilling said that talking about diversity may sound “like a tired record,” but that great progress has been made in that past 25 years in local economic development efforts and in creating business incubators in Laramie, Gillette and Casper.