CHEYENNE — The declining oil and gas industry took a toll on Wyoming’s population and income statistics, according to a pair of new reports released by the state’s Economic Analysis Division.
On the population side, Wyoming continued to see net migration out of the state between July 2014 and July 2015, with natural population growth just barely outpacing the decline from people voluntarily leaving the state.
According to Wenlin Liu, a principal economist with the state, Wyoming’s migration saw a net loss of 1,200 people between July 2014 and July 2015. Liu said much of that came from counties where mineral extraction is among the biggest employers.
“For Wyoming, we see migration and movement is mostly driven by employment changes,” Liu said. “It’s different than states like Arizona, Texas or Florida, where people will move to when they retire. Here, anytime we have a job loss, you see more people moving out and less people moving in.”
Some of the counties most impacted by net outmigration were Hot Springs, Sublette and Carbon, where the population declined by 1.1 percent, 1.4 percent and 1.9 percent, respectively.
In counties where oil and gas play less of an economic role, natural birth rates managed to outpace any outmigration. Laramie County, for example, saw a 0.7 percent increase, while tourism-heavy Teton County grew by 1 percent.
Crook and Campbell counties in northeast Wyoming were the exceptions. Both of those counties saw population growth of 2 percent or more, which Liu said was a result of net in-migration.
“What I suspect is, those counties probably had people moving in in the second half of 2014, because Wyoming employment was still growing at that time,” Liu said, adding that by July 2015, the oil and gas downturn may simply not have caught up to the population in those counties yet.
Overall, Wyoming’s population increased by just 1,803 people, or 0.3 percent year-over-year, to 586,107. It remains the least populous of any U.S. state.
But while the decline in oil and gas jobs has stalled population growth, the state’s per-capita income remains among the nation’s highest. A separate report authored by Liu’s colleague, state economist Jim Robinson, states that Wyoming’s per-capita personal income of $55,303 ranked seventh in the nation for the 2015 calendar year.
But Robinson noted Wyoming’s income numbers were somewhat lopsided for the year. Overall, he said, per-capita income for the state rose 1.7 percent in 2015, but many of the gains made early on were throttled back as oil and gas employment dropped in the fourth quarter of the year.
In fact, Wyoming was one of just three states where income actually declined in the fourth quarter of 2015 — along with Oklahoma and Nebraska, Wyomingites’ overall income fell 0.1 percent for the quarter, or $37 million.
Earnings from salaries and wages was the main driver of that drop.
“Mining earnings, which includes oil and gas activities, fell by $112 million, or 3.4 percent, compared to the third quarter,” Robinson said. “Farm earnings toppled as well, falling by $96 million, or 2.6 percent.”
Liu noted that “income,” as measured by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, includes more than just personal earnings from work. It also includes property income — sources like stock dividends, interest payment and rent — as well as government transfer payments for programs like Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security and disability.
Liu said the only reason Wyoming’s fourth-quarter income declines weren’t worse was because of the latter two income sources, which continued to grow even as salaries and wages fell. Property incomes were up $26 million and transfer payments up $16 million in the fourth quarter of 2015, while net earnings and salaries fell $78 million over the same period.
“Salary incomes declined, but that was offset by property income and transfer receipts, which increased 4 percent,” Liu said. “Some areas like Teton County see lots of dividends from rental income. Wyoming also has a higher proportion of baby boomers, people 51 to 69 years old, and the baby boomers are retiring faster these days,” resulting in more income from Social Security.