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Downtown Casper

Casper Art Walk attendees fill the Second Street sidewalk at the intersection of Center Street in May in downtown Casper.

Alan Rogers, Star-Tribune

Wyoming’s population has dropped for the second consecutive year, according to data released by the state’s Economic Analysis Division on Wednesday. In total, the state has lost 6,649 residents since the energy bust began in 2015.

The Cowboy State lost 5,595 residents between July 2016 and July 2017, a 1 percent drop. That is the largest decline in Wyoming since 1989 and well below neighboring states like Idaho, which experienced the largest population increase in the nation last year at 2.2 percent.

The fortunes of neighboring states like Idaho and Colorado, which has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, have a strong impact on whether people stay in or leave, according to Wenlin Liu, chief economist at the Economic Analysis Division. A worker in Wyoming is more likely to pack up and move to those two states, for example, than across the country.

In all, 8,300 more people left Wyoming than moved to the state over the last year, but new births meant that the total loss of population was less than that.

Wyoming’s roughly 4 percent unemployment rate is currently in line with the national average, and the mining industry has improved somewhat over the last 12 months.

But Liu said that with the national economy experiencing its eighth straight year of growth — and Wyoming’s economy yet to recover from the recent bust — it is unclear if the out migration will end soon.

The loss of residents has one benefit for workers examining the state: average weekly hours and wages are up as employers work to retain and attract labor. The labor pool has contracted at an even faster rate that the population has dropped, Liu said.

Wyoming had about 8,000 fewer workers in October of this year than in 2016, a decline of about 3 percent.

“Many people left and also many older workers left the labor force and retired and that created some opportunities for workers,” Liu said.

The population declines of the last two years still pale in comparison to the last major energy bust in the 1980s when Wyoming lost nearly 57,000 residents over seven years.

Liu said that population decline halted in the early 1990s due in large part to a national recession that hit states like California especially hard and sent migrants to Wyoming in search of work.

Now it’s not economic woes, but success, that might halt the population bleeding in the Cowboy State. As Colorado’s economy booms along the Front Range, many residents are tiring of the traffic and rising housing costs.

A Denver Post report earlier this month noted that the number of Coloradans leaving the state hit a seven-year high, with 30,000 departing.

“Since Colorado always has the most population exchange with Wyoming, the fact above will probably benefit Wyoming’s migration trend,” Liu wrote in an email.

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State Politics Reporter

Arno Rosenfeld covers state politics including the Legislature and Wyoming’s D.C. delegation, focusing especially on the major issues facing the Cowboy State like economic diversification and what it means to be the most conservative state in the nation.

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