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State Report: Wyoming Economy Recovering, But Oil And Gas Decline Make Recovery Slow

Oil and gas drilling on Jay Butler's property in Converse County
Cooper McKim
Wyoming Public Radio

A new report from the Wyoming Department of Administration and Information shows that Wyoming's economy is rebounding from the early months of the pandemic but several key metrics are far behind where they were a year ago.The new report details data from employment, income, taxable sales and other measures of the state economy's health.

"Wyoming's recovery is really somewhat similar to the U.S. economy's recovery," said Wenlin Liu, chief economist for the WDAI economic analysis division, which authored the report. "The Wyoming economy continued to rebound in the fourth quarter. However, the slow recovery of Wyoming's economy was mainly dragged by our oil and gas drilling activities."

In the final months of 2020, employment was down more than 6 percent from where it was the same time the year before. That's a loss of nearly 18,000 jobs - and almost one-third of those were in the oil and gas industry.

That loss of nearly 6,000 jobs since the end of 2019 brought down the state's personal income and led to knock-on effects in supportive industries, such as manufacturing and transportation.

The oil and gas industry pays a strong income relative to other industries, so the lost jobs significantly brought down the state's overall personal income.

Despite this, Wyoming's total personal income grew slightly since the final months of 2019 - in large part due to spending by the federal government, particularly the CARES Act and stimulus checks.

However, personal income nationwide grew by about 4 percent in the past year, or ten times as much as Wyoming's.

"Wyoming's personal income increased 0.4 percent - that's a lot slower than the U.S. average," Liu said. "Again, the main reason is the mineral extraction industry decline."

Mineral severance taxes are usually a significant chunk of the overall tax base; over the past year, they declined more than 20 percent from the same period in 2019.

Tourism, on the other hand, is doing better than a year ago. National park visitation figures for 2020's final three months were higher than they have ever been during that stretch.

Liu said the historic bump is likely due to people seeking more outdoor activities in the absence of indoor options.

"As far as visitation, both third-quarter and fourth-quarter for both Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park break their third- and fourth- quarter records," Liu said. "It's the highest they've ever been for third-quarter and fourth-quarter figures."

According to the report, the speed of recovery will depend on vaccination rates, case counts and the spread of coronavirus variants in the coming months.

Jeff is a part-time reporter for Wyoming Public Media, as well as the owner and editor of the Laramie Reporter, a free online news source providing in-depth and investigative coverage of local events and trends.

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