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New arrivals are helping to increase Wyoming’s population

An empty dirt field covered in snow, with construction materials in Sheridan
Hugh Cook
Wyoming Public Radio
An empty lot on the west side of Sheridan awaits construction of housing to begin in February 2022.

U.S. Census Bureau statistics indicate that 16 of the state’s 23 counties gained population from July 2021 through July 2022. The state’s overall population grew by a 0.3 percent increase during the same time period. That's slightly below the national growth rate of 0.4 percent. The state’s net migration rate, which is the number of those moving in vs. the number moving out, was 2,494.

“The population increased for Wyoming from July 1, 2021 to July 1, 2022, [by] about 1,900 people, [and] it's almost identical to previous population increase [of about] 1,900 between July 2020 to July 2021,” said Wenlin Liu, chief economist with the state Economic Analysis Division of the Wyoming Department of Administration & Information.

With the exception of Lincoln County, which led the state with a 2.4 percent population increase, all of the counties that recorded the highest growth rates were in northern Wyoming. Big Horn and Crook counties were tied for second highest growing populations, with a 1.8 percent uptick. Additionally, Park, Sheridan, Johnson, Campbell, and Weston counties all recorded between one and two percent growth. Over three fourths of the state’s counties experienced positive net migration from 2021 to 2022. Park (504 person increase), Sheridan (498), and Lincoln (435) counties led the way in this increase.

“What is interesting for [the] new in-migration, it seems like quite consistent [in] Lincoln, Park Sheridan, Big Horn, Crook, and Johnson County, where [there were] consecutively two years [of population growth] in a row, [in] 2021 and 2022,” Liu said. “That's pretty consistent, [for] new migration. However, for a few counties, such as Campbell, Converse, [and] Platte counties, their migration reversed between 2021 and 2022. The reason [in] 2021 was an energy downturn. After COVID started, the price dropped so low and mineral [extraction] workers moved out. Then in 2022 [the] mineral extraction industry [was] actually recovering, so that's why all these counties [experienced] positive or negative [figures] between 2021 and 2022.”

Natrona and Laramie counties, which comprise the state’s only two U.S. Census Bureau Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) as the state’s largest populated counties, lost population, albeit only slightly with both experiencing 0.1 percent declines. Teton and Niobrara counties were tied for leading the state in population loss, both having 1.4 percent declines. Sweetwater, Carbon, and Platte counties also marked decreases in population. Goshen County was the only county to remain stagnant. Washakie, Hot Springs, Fremont, Sublette, Uinta, Converse, and Albany counties registered less than one percent growth. Campbell, Converse, Natrona, and Sublette counties reversed the direction of net migration from negative to positive, and Sweetwater County cut its net out migration by more than half compared to the previous year.

Liu said there are several major factors that play into the state’s population figures. These include the number of births vs. the number of deaths, in/out migration, which has been related to the ebbs and flows of the state economy, especially with regard to the energy industry. The number of deaths from COVID-19 has also played a role. Last year marked the first in decades that the number of deaths outnumbered births, though the state’s population increased overall due to people moving in primarily from other states.

“That's probably the first time in Wyoming’s history [the] number of deaths over the number of births,” he said. “That's very unusual.”

Wyoming consistently lost population from 2014 through 2019 due to an energy downturn, which reversed in 2020 when more people began relocating to the Cowboy State during the pandemic. The state’s natural population growth from natural change (births vs. deaths) declined steadily from 2008-2019.

Liu believes that this growth rate will not last for the long-term in more rural areas.

“For the U.S., more than 3,000 counties, [figures] already show the trend is somewhat going back to [a] pre-COVID level [for smaller counties],” he said. “The rural population increase might be just temporary.”

Lincoln (5.5 percent) and Sheridan (3.8 percent) counties have experienced the largest growths in population since 2020. Sweetwater County (-922) had the steepest decline since that time with a 2.2 percent decrease. Since the 2020 census, Wyoming’s population has increased by 4,544 people, or 0.8 percent, which is a faster growth rate than the 0.6 percent annual national growth rate.

Hugh Cook is Wyoming Public Radio's Northeast Reporter, based in Gillette. A fourth-generation Northeast Wyoming native, Hugh joined Wyoming Public Media in October 2021 after studying and working abroad and in Washington, D.C. for the late Senator Mike Enzi.
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