While unemployment rates continue to drop, nearly 1,000 people have disappeared from Albany County’s labor pool since August 2016, the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services reported.

It is difficult to determine whether declining labor force numbers are caused by people retiring, not looking for jobs or leaving the state, Wyoming Department of Workforce Services Research and Planning Senior Economist David Bullard said. But given the trend is statewide, he said it was likely they were moving to other states.

“It’s not necessarily a good thing,” Bullard said. “It suggests to me people might be moving away. We’re seeing it around the state and it affects almost every county.”

The decrease in labor force seems to be affecting Albany County disproportionately, he added.

Natrona County, a highly populated, energy-reliant economy hit hard by the energy industry bust, experienced the largest labor force decrease with 1,811 less people in August 2017 than August 2016, which was about a 4 percent deduction, the department reported. Albany County’s labor force lost 915 people, which was about a 5 percent deduction, department documents state.

Overall, the department reported the state labor force was reduced during the same time period by 7,909 people, or a 2.5 percent reduction.

Information for September 2017 is not yet available, Bullard said.

During a energy sector bust, he said he expected to see energy-reliant counties experience larger decreases in labor force as workers move on to the next boom. But Bullard said he wasn’t expecting to see Albany County, which is nearly devoid of energy jobs, experience the largest percentage decrease.

“What we see at the statewide level is a number of signs the economy is improving,” he said. “But these numbers showing a declining labor force is certainly a concern. Declining labor force numbers do not tend to point toward a healthy economy.”

One major factor in the decrease could be the University of Wyoming eliminating about 400 faculty and staff positions.

Bullard said state government was the employment sector in Albany County to take the hardest hit with 250 less people in the labor force according to a department report conducted between the first quarter of 2016 and the first quarter of 2017. Because UW is a state entity, faculty and staff would be categorized as state government employees in the report, he said.

Albany County’s retail and health care sectors each lost 75 people during the same time period, the department reported.

Despite a dwindling labor force, the department reported Albany County’s unemployment rate was among the lowest in the state at 2.7 percent in August 2017, a .5 percent decrease from August 2016.

“Albany County’s unemployment is low, and its economy seems stable,” Bullard said. “But when unemployment gets too low, that’s a concern for employers who are looking for workers.”

Wyoming Department of Administration and Information Economic Analysis Division Principal Economist Jim Robinson said a declining labor force could also contribute to potential employers looking elsewhere to set up shop, but he was optimistic despite the statistics.

“One of the best numbers the state has available to gauge the health of the economy is the sales and use tax number,” Robinson said. “They tell me about spending by consumers and businesses.”

In energy-reliant counties such as Natrona and Campbell, sales and use tax rates fluctuate wildly, he said. In Albany County, the tax rate is low but steady.

“After last year, Albany County was one of just a few counties that finished a little ahead in sales and use tax,” Robinson said. “This year, (Albany County is) on the same track they were last year.”

The biggest contributors of sales and use tax in September were the retail trade industry, accommodation and food services and public administration, which represents sales tax and registration fees for vehicle purchases, he said.

“Given the steady sales and use tax, I would say Albany County has a very stable economy right now,” Robinson said.

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