Wyoming’s labor force is on the decline, despite an increased oil rig count, but in Albany County, the reverse is true, a state economist said.
“Albany County’s labor force is up over the year — November 2017-November 2018,” said David Bullard, senior economist for the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services Research and Planning Division. “I think the state is still adjusting to the energy downturn we had in 2015-2016.”
Albany County experienced an increase of 95 people added to its labor force throughout a 12-month period ending in November. The County’s total labor force is 21,218, Bullard said.
Wyoming’s overall labor force dropped by 2,927 people, he added.
According to a study conducted on behalf of Atlas Van Lines, people aren’t just leaving the workforce, they are leaving the state.
More than 55 percent of Atlas’ traffic in the state has been outbound, or people moving way, since 2012, an Atlas news release said. But in 2018, the moving company recorded Wyoming’s outbound traffic at 61.4 percent of all its traffic within the state. The only other state with a higher percentage of outbound traffic also sports a heavily energy-reliant economy — West Virginia, with 61.7 percent of Atlas traffic outbound. Illinois ranked third in the nation for outbound traffic with 61.2 percent, the study states.
Nevada experienced the highest percentage of inbound traffic, with 67.8 percent of Atlas traffic moving people into the state, according to the study.
Bullard said fewer people in the workforce could be partly because of energy sector job fluctuations, but job growth in nearby states plays a significant role, too.
“You have a couple of things going on — the energy bust with lots of job losses there, and at the same time, neighboring states are growing which can lure people away,” he said. “On the other hand, when employment is growing rapidly here, we see people move to Wyoming for work.”
The state experienced an influx to the labor force in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2014, Bullard said.
Wyoming’s future labor force and population are difficult to predict, but for the time being, they are tied to the energy industry.
“(Labor force fluctuation) depends on the relative economic situation,” Bullard explained. “It’s hard to say what the next year holds. The energy prices can move up or down fairly quickly, but the (increased) rig count is encouraging at this point.”
While other job sectors are growing — manufacturing jobs are up by 400 between November 2017-November 2018 — the key to growing a robust labor force is creating lucrative jobs.
“The energy jobs are so important because they pay so well,” Bullard said. “If another industry where to create enough high-paying jobs, we might see a shift from the labor force’s reliance on the energy industry.”