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Postage Stamps to Increase to 58 Cents in August

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

The cost of sending a letter from Meeteetse to Wamsutter is going to cost a bit more starting in August.

The U.S. Postal Service announced on Friday that the cost of a postage stamp is going up again. This time it’s a 7% increase going from 55 cents to 58 cents.

And, of course, this affects more than just residents of Meeteetse or Wamsutter. It’s an increase for everyone who still uses the Postal Service.

While most people have switched over to the Internet to pay bills, 18% of Americans still use the physical mailbox to pay up monthly debts like credit cards, rent payments, or monthly subscriptions.

The reason? Same thing the Postal Service has said for years: they’re losing billions of dollars because fewer people are paying for the service.

Mail volume has declined 47% over the last 10 years. Meanwhile, service has become markedly worse.

According to a report from the Lexington Institute, a public policy think tank based in Arlington, Virginia, only 78% of first-class mail was delivered on time from January through March of 2021 — which is a decrease from 92% from the same time a year ago.

“It’s disappointing, and it’s quite low by historic standards,” a spokesman for the think tank told CBS News. “It means a lot of stuff isn’t getting delivered on time. I would pay your credit card at least a week before it’s due. It means if you are expecting rent checks or have to pay a rent check, you better give yourself some extra time.”

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Wyoming Wood Prices Soar Due to COVID, Labor Problems

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

There are some things we definitely take for granted in our society – for example, construction projects. Many of us just assume we can go to the lumber yard, get the supplies we need, and build whatever we have in mind.

But what happens when those supplies just aren’t available?

Right now, lumber is hard to come by. And when it can be found, it isn’t cheap.

“Our (plywood) with all of our sheet goods have gone exponentially higher – like eight times higher, and our dimensional lumber has over doubled in price,” said Matt Scott, a contractor in Cody. “But it’s also availability of goods.”

Ken Gould, a sales associate at Knecht Home Center in Sheridan, said the price for standard plywood — also known as oriented strand board or OSB (standard plywood) — is over five times what it cost just six months ago.

“Your cost of OSB right now is, $66.78 for 7/16 OSB sheeting,” Gould said. “Six months ago it was around $13 or $14.”

And the reason behind the price hike? Simple supply and demand, he said.

“The supply is not there,” Gould said. 

Right now, the OSB is coming from places like Michigan, or other suppliers back east, Gould said. But that’s not where the lumber came from before the coronavirus hit.

“Most of your OSB would come out of Canada, but Canada is closed,” he said. 

But it’s not just about border issues. Labor plays a big part, according to Gould.

“I was told this morning that there’s lots of lumber out there to be grabbed and brought in, but they can’t get trucks,” he said. 

For Scott, the shortage affects his bottom line as well – and his schedule.

“With the price being so high, no lumberyard wants to stock a whole lot of lumber right now, because they’re not wanting to put a whole lot of money into inventory,” he said. “So that slows our turnover down, and there’s a lot more time lagging with the supply chain. We’ve run into a lot of issues with our windows and door manufacturers just because they went to half staff during this whole deal.”

Scott put most of the blame for the shortages in lumber and other construction goods on the pandemic and other natural disasters in recent months.

“Our drywall has doubled in price because they’re shipping a lot of it down to Texas to repair all the damage that was done this spring,” he said, referring to the cold snap that caused pipes to freeze and burst. “And our PVC pipe is in short demand.”

The supply issues have caused Scott to change the way he schedules upcoming jobs.

“I’m at a point where I’m so tired of trying to play this catch up game,” he said. “We just had to kind of tell people we can’t take any more work at this time, partially because it’s right now it’s too hard to schedule that far out.”

Gould said from his perspective, a large part of the issue is political. He said he feels that the labor shortage is tied to higher unemployment benefits, which discourage potential employees from going back to work.

“I ordered one man an earth auger, to drill holes in the ground,” he said. “And (the seller) told me it was backordered until October. She told me that they don’t have enough workers in the factory to produce what people are purchasing. And why would they want to work? When they can make $1,600 on unemployment?”

‘It’s frustrating,” Scott said. “It adds a whole other level of stress that isn’t normally there. But we’ve got to figure out how to work through this and deal with it.”

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Wyoming Lost More Than 16,000 Jobs In 2020

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming lost more than 16,000 jobs in 2020, according to state figures.

A report from the state Department of Workforce Services showed that between the fourth quarter of 2019 and 2020, the number of people employed in the state fell by 6%, from 276,508 to 259,937.

The figures are included in a preliminary employment report prepared by the DWS Research and Planning Division.

Employment in the last quarter of 2020 was an improvement over the second quarter of the year, when the number of people with jobs stood at 252,329.

By comparison, as of March, the DWS estimated state employment at 277,417.

The combined impact of coal mine closures and business closures related to the coronavirus pandemic was felt significantly in employment.

The report said most of the jobs lost, 5,900, were seen in the mining sector, while the leisure and hospitality industry lost 3,300 jobs over the one-year period. Construction jobs also fell by 2,750 from the last quarter of 2019.

However, the retail trade sector added 700 jobs from the final quarter of 2019.

The report also said that during the final quarter of the year, the state’s total payroll dropped by 1.7% from the fourth quarter of 2019 to total almost $3.6 billion. However, the payroll seen in the last quarter of the year was higher than what was seen in the second quarter, when the total fell to $3.1 billion.

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Report: Slow Rebound In Wyoming’s Economy Continued In Last Quarter Of 2020

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s economy continued its rebound in the fourth quarter of 2020, with slight gains seen in employment, personal income and the housing market.

However, the gains in most of those areas remained below what was seen prior to 2020, according to the state Department of Administration and Information.

“Wyoming’s economy continued to rebound in the fourth quarter, similar to the U.S. average,” the department said in its regular economic summary for the fourth quarter of last year.

The report said while Wyoming’s unemployment rate improved in the last quarter of the year to 5.3%, the number of jobs dropped from the last quarter of 2019, with 17,730 jobs being lost, a decline in employment figures of 6.1%.

Similarly, personal income grew in the last quarter of 2020, but very slowly, the report said.

“Wyoming’s total personal income grew 0.4% in the fourth quarter of 2020 from the previous year, the slowest growth since the first quarter of 2017,” the report said.

At the same time, the personal income nationally increased by an average of 4%, the report said.

Home prices also increased during the year by 8.4%, the report said, compared to a national average of 10.8%.

More homes were also built in the last quarter of 2020 over 2019, with the number of permits issued increasing by 21.5% over last year.

However, the report predicted a cooling in the housing market in the near future because of rising prices and mortgage rates.

“Indeed, there are signs that show some softness in (the) housing market such as new home sales and mortgage applications,” it said.

Tourism also increased significantly in the last quarter of the year over 2019, the report said, with Yellowstone National Park reporting a 94.2% increase in visitation and Grand Teton National Park’s visitation growing by 67.1%.

While the added visits helped generate economic activity in some areas, they did not do a lot to bring the full state’s tourism industry out of the slump it saw in 2020, the report said.

“Lodging sales for the fourth quarter were 35.4% higher than a year ago in Teton County, but were down 3.2% for the state as a whole,” it said.

Taxable sales also declined statewide by about 9.3% from the last quarter of 2019, the report said, but most of the decline could be traced to a lack of purchases by the mining industry.

“The mining industry (including oil and gas extraction) contracted substantially, at -63.1%, due to declining sales of equipment, supplies and services from energy exploration and production activity,” the report said. “This was one of the largest year-over-year drops in Wyoming’s history.”

Sales by the state’s retail trade industry grew by 2.7% over last year and the wholesale trade industry saw growth of 17.6% during the year, the report said, largely because of increased activity in the state’s wind energy industry.

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Wyoming’s Economic Health Improving; Projections Grow By $82 Million

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The state’s top financial experts had some good news for Wyoming legislators as they headed into their one-day legislative opening session Tuesday, with forecasts for income for the state’s next two years improving slightly.

Income estimates for the state for fiscal 2021 through 2022 — which began on July 1 and will end on June 30, 2022 — grew by $82 million over projections made in October by the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group.

The CREG is a group of top financial experts from across state government who regularly assess what the state’s revenues will look like going forward. The group’s latest report was issued Tuesday as legislators gathered virtually for a one-day session that would be followed up later in the year by more extensive meetings to tackle legislation.

CREG estimated in May that the state could face shortfalls of $1.5 billion to $1.8 billion in funding for both general government operations and education, prompting Gov. Mark Gordon to cut state spending by $250 million and propose another $500 million in cuts in his supplemental budget now being studied by lawmakers.

The bulk of the shortfall was blamed on reduced coal production in the state and losses in sales taxes blamed on the coronavirus.

However, in the report issued Tuesday, the CREG said it has adjusted its sales tax income upward by about $32.2 million over projections made in October.

The report said although sales taxes income remains substantially lower than what was seen in fiscal 2020, the drop is not as severe as what had earlier been forecast.

The improved outlook is the result of federal coronavirus assistance funds still flowing into local economies, the second round of federal stimulus payments being sent to taxpayers, slight improvements in sales taxes generated by oil and natural gas drilling and sales taxes from the construction of wind power projects, the report said.

At the same time, the CREG increased its forecast for mineral severance taxes over the biennium by $18.7 million, due largely to a slight boost in estimated oil production over the next two years.

The group’s forecast for federal mineral royalties also increased by $11.6 million, while investment income was forecast to grow by $19.7 million over earlier projections.

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