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Some jobs are coming back in Wyoming after the effects of the pandemic, but others aren’t as quickly

Employment being written with a dry-erase marker
Nick Youngson
Alpha Stock Images CC-BY-SA 3.0

The COVID-19 pandemic impacted seemingly every sector of the global economy. And those impacts are continuing to make their mark on the national and Wyoming economies. Wyoming Public Radio’s Hugh Cook asked Wenlin Liu of the state’s Department of Administration and Information’s Economic Analysis Division how the Cowboy state is holding up after COVID.

Wenlin Liu: During the COVID period, most of the industries lost jobs. However, it seems [that in] 2021 and slowly, gradually jobs [are] coming back. And actually, by now, most of our retail trading industry recovered back to pre-COVID. And, also, professional venue services also recovered back to pre-COVID. And even leisure hospitality, which is mostly restaurant[s] and lodging, also came back pretty close to before COVID. So of course, the mining industry is still far away from recovering back to the pre-COVID level, and also many other goods-producing industries, you know, back to pre-COVID, and overall for state total, we see about a couple of percentage points short on employment compared to pre-COVID level. However, for the U.S. overall, we came back to either the labor force or the number of jobs compared to the pre-COVID level.

Labor Force participation graph
Wyoming Department of Administration & Information, Economic Analysis Division
Labor force participation rates since 2010.

Hugh Cook: I'm reading something right now that talks about the difference nationwide versus the situation here in Wyoming used to be several percentage points, but that is certainly narrowed overall. What do you attribute that to being?

WL: We have a stat called ‘labor force participation rate.’ That's the number of persons in the labor force divided by 16 years, the total working age overall population. Wyoming’s labor force participation rate has always been higher than the U.S. Actually back to 10 years ago, Wyoming’s labor force participation rate is almost five percent higher than [the] U.S. However, since 10 years ago, gradually, Wyoming’s labor force participation rate dropped faster than the U.S. By now the U.S. labor force participation rate is about 62.4. Wyoming is only slightly higher, just 63.2. So less than one percentage point difference. The reason behind that is the demographic behind Wyoming’s picture. Wyoming has a higher proportion of Baby Boomers. Actually, Wyoming’s Baby Boomer proportion is one of the highest in the country. And the Baby Boomers were referred to as people born between 1946 and 1964, so they were aged between 58 to 76 years old in 2022. They are the example for in 2021, Wyoming’s 65 and older population went up 3.6 percent higher than the U.S. [rate of] 2.6 percent. That's why, on the other hand, Wyoming just demographically has a smaller proportion of Generation X, which is between 42 and 57 years old. That means Wyoming does not have enough Generation X to replace Boomers. So that's one of the reasons we have, though our job increase rate is not as high as the U.S. but our unemployment rate continues lower than [the] U.S.’s, probably maybe about 3.1 percent. That was the lowest since 2008.

HC: You were talking just a few moments ago about some of the industries that have rebounded versus those that have not rebounded to pre-COVID levels. And the service industry is one of those that has had a lot of problems both in Wyoming and nationwide, as well as energy. In addition to those two employment sectors, are there other employment sectors that are having difficulty rebounding to what they were pre-COVID? Or have they, for the most part, largely been able to regain their workforce that was lost because of the pandemic?

WL: Most of the industry has been recovering. However, the construction industry, it's certainly linked with the mining industry, also, like the wholesale trading industry. What [it] is about the mining industry is every time we have a big downturn, such as 2014, 2015, like this time, after the COVID downturn, every time, employment for the mining industry recovers relatively very slowly. The employment always comes back much slower. And also, there is no way we [can] come back to the previous level. That's because every time after downturn[s], mining operations, mineral extraction operation[s] [are] more efficient. That means they don't pay as many workers as they used to after [a] downturn and it's the use of automation. They're opening their operations. So that's why even now, the employment [in the] mining industry is recovering, but the speed of recovery is very slow for the employment.

Mining employment in Wyoming graph
Wyoming Department of Administration & Information, Economic Analysis Division
Employment of the mining industry in Wyoming since 2010.

HC: Quiet quitting has been a term that's been used a lot over the last year or two, specifically in regards to employees who are less than invested, might be working fewer hours, and all that kind of stuff. From your analysis, what is the situation here in Wyoming with regard to quiet quitting? Is it kind of similar to what's happened across the country? Or are there some different aspects that make the situation unique here in the Cowboy State?

WL: I think we probably are on a similar track as the U.S., though really, there's not much exact statistic[s] for Wyoming along these lines, and also surveys. However, what I think is the largest factor is because the labor force is so tight throughout the country. Everywhere the employers hesitate to let employees go because it's [such a hard] time to hire employees just because the labor market is so tight, the U.S. unemployment rate is around 3.6, 3.7 percent. That's the lowest in 50 years, more than 50 years. So, you can imagine with job openings, for almost every two job openings, only one [is filled]. So, there are so many job openings out there. Quitting rate is so high for employees. That's why again, employees, on the other hand, workers feel employers really need them and that's why they have some room so they understand the employer [has] a hard time finding another job, find[ing] another worker. So just, you know, [a] tight labor market is really a big factor behind this.

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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