Many of Wyoming’s cities and towns lost residents in 2017, part of the largest population decline the state has experienced since 1989.
Despite recent improvements in the fossil fuel industries that support Wyoming’s economy, people continued to leave the state last year, particularly in areas where oil, gas and coal are central to the local economy, according a town and city analysis by the Wyoming Economic Analysis Division’s, released Thursday.
In Casper, a statewide oil and gas hub, 1,092 people left town, bringing the city’s population to 57,814. Gillette, home of Wyoming’s coal sector, bled 1,730 people, dipping its total population to 30,560.
Both industry towns had also shrunk in 2016.
In total, 10 cities and towns experienced a population drop of at least 1.5 percent, including Newcastle, Douglas and Rock Springs. Small numbers of people also left towns like Lander, Buffalo and Kemmerer.
Only Afton, on the far western border of the state had a year-over-year population increase of 1 percent. Nineteen people moved in, bringing the total population up to 2,005, according to the Wyoming Economic Analysis Division.
Nearly half of the state’s population lives in towns that are, by Wyoming standards, large — over 10,000 people.
The state’s capital, Cheyenne, gained 23 residents. Powell added two people, Laramie grew by 238.
Wyoming’s economic slide began in 2015 and accelerated rapidly through 2016 due to a falling price of oil and instability in the coal sector. Between the summer of that year and mid-2017, about 8,000 more people had left the state than moved to it.
“Migration is mostly driven by changes in employment, which is particularly true for Wyoming,” said Wenlin Liu, chief economist with the State of Wyoming’s Economic Analysis Division, in March. “People tend to move to areas where jobs are available, or conversely, may leave the areas where employment opportunities become limited.”
The declines in population, and improving fossil fuel sectors, has kept the unemployment rate in Wyoming close to the national average. Wyoming’s unemployment rate fell to 3.8 percent in April, a tenth of a percent below the national average.
According to a recent report from the National Association of State Energy Professionals, more than half of the state’s energy employers polled had hired workers in the last year, the majority saying that finding new employees had been difficult or somewhat difficult.