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Wyoming Unemployment Rate Down As People Leave Job Force

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s unemployment rate continued to fall in August, but the decline was due more to people leaving the job force than getting jobs, according to a state agency.

The Research and Planning Division, a part of the Department of Workforce Services, said in its monthly unemployment report that Wyoming’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in August fell to 4.9% from the July figure of 5.2%. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate takes annual developments, such as the opening or closing of tourism season, into account.

“Available data suggests that the August decrease in unemployment was related to individuals dropping out of the labor force,” the report said.

The division said Wyoming’s labor force declined by almost 2,000 in August from July to total 294,925.

The August seasonally adjusted rate was below the national average of 5.2% and a significant decline from the figure seen in August 2020, 6.2%.

The state’s unadjusted unemployment rate stood at 3.7% in August, compared to 4.4% in July and 5.9% in August 2020.

The department said the unadjusted unemployment rate in August followed seasonal trends, with Sweetwater County posting the largest decline for unemployment, falling from 5.8% in July to 4.7%.

Natrona County had the state’s highest unemployment rate in August, 5%, while the lowest rate, 2.4% was found in Teton County.

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Wyoming Unemployment Remained Relatively Stable In June

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s unemployment rate increased slightly from May to June, according to state figures, ending the first half of 2021 at 5.6%.

The state Department of Workforce Services’ Research and Planning Division, in its monthly report on unemployment figures in the state, said 16,825 people were without work in June, an increase of about 800 from May, resulting in a slight increase in the unemployment rate from May’s 5.4%.

However, Wyoming’s 2021 unemployment rates remained well below the figures seen one year ago. In June of 2020, the state’s unemployment rate was 7.3%.

“From June 2020 to June 2021, unemployment rates fell in most counties,” the report said. “The COVID-19 pandemic caused unemployment rates to be unusually high in June 2020, but in 2021, unemployment rates seem to be approaching more typical levels as the economy recovers.”

The report showed that as of June, Weston County had the lowest unemployment rate at 3.8%, followed by Teton County at 3.8%.

The highest unemployment rate was found in Natrona County at 7.4%, the report said, followed by Sweetwater County at 7.1%.

The state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate — which takes into account seasonal developments such as increased tourism and construction jobs — stood at 5.4% in June, the same figure seen in May, but a significant drop from the rate of 7.4% recorded in June 2020.

Wyoming’s unemployment rate remained well below the national average in June of 6.1%. The national seasonally adjusted rate in June was 5.9%.

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Wyoming Sees Seasonal Unemployment Drop In April

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s unemployment rate fell slightly in April from March, following annual seasonal trends, according to the state Department of Workforce Services

.The department’s Research and Planning Division, in its regular unemployment report, said unemployment rates fell from from 5.9% in March to 5.6% in April.

“From March to April, unemployment rates followed their normal seasonal pattern and fell in most counties,” the report said. “Unemployment rates often decrease in April as seasonal job gains occur in construction, retail trade and professional and business services.”

According to the report, the numbers meant that 16,467 members of Wyoming’s labor force of 293,373 were looking for jobs. The April figures show an increase of about 800 workers with jobs in April over March.

The state’s lowest unemployment rate in April was 3.9% in Weston County, a decline from 4.2% in March. The highest unemployment rate was in Natrona County at 7.4%, a decline of one-half percentage point from March.

Despite the job gains attributed to the hospitality and recreation industry, the unemployment rate on Teton County increased from 4.2% in March to 7% in April due to the end of the ski season, the report said.

April’s unemployment rate of 5.6% was slightly below the rate seen one year ago of 5.8%, the report said, even though the percentage of people looking for work grew in 16 counties.

The fall in the unemployment rate in Teton County’s to 7% was the largest decline seen over the year. In April 2020, Teton County’s unemployment rate was 12.5%.

Converse County saw the largest increase in its unemployment rate during the year, growing from 4.1% in 2020 to 6.1% in April of this year.

The state’s “seasonally adjusted” unemployment rate — a rate derived by accounting for the impacts of normally recurring events such as storms and major holidays — stood at 5.4% in April, a slight increase from 5.3% in March.

However, the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate remained well below the national average of 6.1%, the report said.

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Wyoming Employers Thank Gordon For Cutting Off Federal Covid Unemployment Checks

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

By 7 a.m. Monday, the line of vehicles at Starbucks on Highway 59 in Gillette was already at least a dozen deep. The busy franchise that struggles on an average day to keep customers moving quickly through its drive-through window has been further taxed in recent weeks due to a shortage of workers. 

The lack of available employees has crippled the business to the point where it had to recently cut its hours nearly in half to keep with up with demand. 

“It’s definitely been a problem finding people to work,” barista Cord Smith said Monday morning, noting that the business could use at least 10 more employees

Part of the problem, Smith said, is both competition among other fast food and retail outlets as business continues to pick up across the state and extended unemployment benefits made available because of coronavirus.

Of particular note is a program approved by Congress as part of its coronavirus relief bill that increased unemployment benefits by $300.

The extra money, combined with regular unemployment benefits, often totals  more than some workers make in a week and serves as a disincentive for drawing unemployed residents back to work, Smith and others in the hospitality industry said. 

Relief, however, may soon be coming following Gov. Mark Gordon’s announcement last week that he would be clamping down on these benefits. 

As of June 19, Gordon will eliminate the extra $300 weekly payment and reduce the length of time benefits are available to 26 weeks — less than half of the 52-week period approved by Congress.

In addition, Gordon will also limit eligibility for unemployment benefits to unemployed workers who have paid into the state’s unemployment fund, making self-employed and “gig” workers once again ineligible. 

Gordon is one of 18 Republican governors who see these generous benefits as hampering the state’s ability to rebound economically in the wake of business slowdowns resulting from the COVID pandemic.

 “Wyoming needs workers, our businesses are raring to go,” he said in a statement. “I recognize the challenges facing Wyoming employers, and I believe it’s critical for us to do what we can to encourage more hiring. Federal unemployment programs have provided short-term relief for displaced and vulnerable workers at a tough time but are now hindering the pace of our recovery. People want to work, and work is available. Incentivizing people not to work is just plain un-American.”

He’s hoping the move will help hasten economic recovery and bring down the state’s unemployment rate. 

Currently, Wyoming has the 28th lowest unemployment rate in the nation at 5.3%, according to an April 16 report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

Nebraska, South Dakota, Utah and Vermont currently have the lowest unemployment rate at 2.9%, according to the same data, while Hawaii scores highest at 9%.

The two Wyoming industries reporting the most unemployed workers who have filed to continue unemployment benefits are the construction and the leisure and hospitality industries with 1,001 and 797 requests for continued claims as of the week ending May 1, according to data from Wyoming Workforce Services.

Of all the unemployed workers filing for benefits, the largest majority of requests for continued claims are from workers age 25 and below, who make up 41% of those seeking claims, followed by residents age 35 to 44 at 38.7%.

Of the state’s 23 counties, Natrona reported the highest number of unemployment claims from all industries for the week ending May 8 at 489, followed by 329 in Laramie County. Campbell County had the third-highest unemployment claims for the same period at 238, with the fewest claims, 13, filed in Niobrara County.

Many small business owners like Lilly Nilson, co-owner of Stampede Saloon in Chugwater, have been struggling to absorb the worker shortage as business continues to gain steam with the revitalization of the economy.

Friday night, Nilson found herself stuck behind the bar while her husband Lance manned the grill and deep fat fryer and his parents Merwyn and Margie seated guests and helped with dishes. The two waitresses, who had already put in eight-hour shifts on their day jobs, strategized for how the two of them would service the bustling dining room and bar. 

In a town of just under 200 residents, the labor pool in Chugwater is already strained without perks to disincentivize workers, Nilson said. 

“Let’s just say that anyone who wants to work is already working,” she said. 

She is also all for Gordon’s attempt to clamp down on unemployment benefits.  

Likewise, an employee at Western Travel Terminal in Torrington was celebrating the news. 

He declined to give his name because he was not authorized to speak on behalf of the company, but he did say that the 24-hour truck stop was definitely struggling to keep up. He estimated that the business needs at least six employees and added no one is coming in to fill out an application. As a result, he and others have been putting in long days to keep up. 

“June 19 can’t come soon enough,” he said as he loaded hotdogs onto the rotisserie early Saturday morning. “I’m ready for a couple days off.”

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Wyoming Jobless Rate Steady As Seasonal Jobs Crop Up

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s unemployment rate remained steady in March from February as seasonal jobs began to increase around the state.

The Research and Planning Section of the state’s Department of Workforce Services reported Monday the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in March was 5.3%, the same level seen in February and almost a full percentage point below the national average of 6%.

The rate meant that of Wyoming’s labor force of 294,787, 17,370 were seeking jobs.

March’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was slightly higher than the rate for March of 2020 of 5.1%. Wyoming’s unemployment rate increased sharply after March of last year as businesses closed as the result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate takes into account regularly recurring events such as major holidays and the opening and closing of schools to even out the changes in the rate.

The unadjusted unemployment rate for March was 5.9%, a decline from the rate of 6.5% seen in February.

The decline was largely the result of seasonal employment changes, the report said.

“Jobless rates often decrease in March as warmer weather brings seasonal job gains in construction, leisure and hospitality, government and other sectors,” the report said.

The unadjusted unemployment rate fell in every county from February to March, the report said, with Sublette County posting the steepest decline, from 8.9% to 7.7%, followed by Converse County, which saw its rate drop from 7.5% to 6.3%.

The highest unemployment rate for March was found in Natrona County, 7.9%, while Weston County had the lowest rate at 4.1%.

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Wyoming Ranked Best in the Nation for Paying Unemployment

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming had enough money in its unemployment insurance trust fund at the beginning of the year to pay unemployment benefits for about six years, according to a study by the Tax Foundation.

The Foundation, using statistics compiled by the U.S. Department of Labor, ranked Wyoming’s ability to pay unemployment insurance as the best in the country.

The Tax Foundation stressed that its analysis only took into account jobless claims filed through the week ending April 4.

“Unfortunately, (unemployment insurance) claims during the current crisis are dramatically higher than they were during the Great Recession,” the Tax Foundation analysis said. “Initial and continuing claims for the week ending April 4 stand at 14.38 million — 283% of averages for the three years used to calculate solvency levels.”

Nonetheless, the Foundation said based on the state’s worst three years of unemployment claims, Wyoming had enough in its trust funds to make benefit payments for 321 weeks, putting it well ahead of of second-place Florida, which the study said could make payments for 90 weeks.

In last place in the study was California, which the Foundation said only had enough in reserves to pay benefits for 26 days.

Robin Cooley, director of the state Department of Workforce Services, said during a news conference Wednesday that a national document she had reviewed showed the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund was the third healthiest in the country.

“We are working with another national organization to look at some of the modeling … in order to insure that our trust fund will be healthy through the term of this situation,” she said. “But I feel very comfortable where we started with that fund as healthy as it was.”

According to DWS statistics, the unemployment insurance trust fund ended 2019 with a balance of more than $423 million.

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Sound off: Converse County leads state’s boom

in Economic development/Column/Business/Bill Sniffin
Sound off Wyoming's local economies
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Other counties report good news, too

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

Of Wyoming’s 23 counties, why is Converse County leading the way economically?

The county boasts an unemployment rate of 3.2 percent, the fourth-lowest rate in the state behind Teton, Crook and Weston counties. It is in the midst of an energy boom bringing new workers to the area. Who better than the local newspaper publisher to explain what it happening in Douglas, Glenrock and Converse County?  

Douglas Budget Publisher Matt Adelman says:

“Converse County is at the apex of a massive oil and gas exploration boom that appears to be just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

“While we have huge amounts of exploration and development activity underway already, indications are the next few years will see an even bigger explosion of development as more wells are drilled – as many as 17,000 by some estimates based on those permitted. Those wells in the permit pipeline and the 5,000 wells being proposed are the subject of an environmental impact statement that is nearing its conclusion – and many more come into their own.”

Adelman says that all this oil and gas activity eclipses other energy-related activity.

“The Cedar Springs (phase 1) wind farm is beginning work this year, and phases II and III are already well into becoming realities concurrently and consecutively with phase I.

“Rocky Mountain Power’s multi-billion dollar Gateway West transmission line project is underway, with its starting point outside of Glenrock, and those and other wind farms will tie into that and other lines.”

Adelman notes that even though the coal industry has been hit with declines in demand and production, the industry — along with the railroads — is still responsible for most of the long-term energy employment in the area.

He sees development of other energy sources causing the Converse County economy to soar in a short time span.

“Of course, such a surge in growth – with employment spikes, drastically falling unemployment and the accompanying shortage of housing – is not without its struggles, but it is certainly a welcomed relief from the 2016-2018 crash in oil and gas prices and near-standstill in new exploration here,” Adelman concludes.

Converse County Bank President Tom Saunders echoes:

“Those of us that have lived through energy economic cycles remember how quickly the spigot can turn off when commodity prices fall out of bed and the workers spools their rags overnight and head back to Houston.

“When dealing with fossil fuel economies, 12-month budgets are considered long-range planning. Oil and gas economies are good until they’re not. The best cross on an Angus cow is a Lufkin pump.

“Our growth seems manageable at the present time, but the seams on our jeans are starting to get stretched tight. Any help in adding lanes to State Highway 59 would be welcomed. Those of us in energy counties understand the importance of mineral taxes paid in to the State’s coffers, as well as the strains our cities and towns undergo to meet the needs and costs of their development and production… we hope all our citizens of our wonderful State understand as well.”

The situation is different in Fremont County, where the unemployment rate in June was 4.7 percent, the highest in the state.

But in Fremont County’s seat of Lander, business owner Joe Quiroz said he sees opportunities ahead:

“I think we’re holding and have potential for growth. Last week in Jackson, three people asked me quietly and seriously about life in Lander. In fact, they’re all prosperous people who earn and spend, and are tired of the glitz and glam of a ski town.

“And the traffic. But they also need fast connectivity and transportation by a reliable air carrier. 

“I’m encouraged by the arrival in Lander of an interventional cardiologist and a vascular surgeon. These are people who will draw patients from around the state. Our future is not going to be based on employment of a large skilled workforce, but of small operators working in a knowledge based economy. 

“Lander has physical advantages that many places in Wyoming do not have. The sense of community is paramount. My wife Andrea runs a global enterprise from Lander, a place that will be our base camp as long as we are able to live here. We may have an apartment in London or Paris, but Lander is home.” 

Albany County is keeping steady with the University of Wyoming as a stabilizing anchor:

“The Laramie area economy is holding on, which is about all it ever does,” says John Waggener, an archivist for the American Heritage Center. “The tax base here is low due to the fact the largest employer, UW, is a public entity.”

UW historian Phil Roberts says:

“Hard to read the Laramie economy without reference to UW and, so far, I detect a ‘wait-and-see’ feeling about the interim and forthcoming new leadership. The mystery on departure of Laurie Nichols still spawns rumors. We’ll see in the next few weeks what the new semester holds.” 

Up on the eastern slope of the Big Horns, things are green and growing, according to retired community leader and former state Rep. Doug Osborn:

“I feel like the Sheridan-Buffalo area is doing well. The towns are clean and well kept, people seem generally happy and there seems to be building going on throughout.”

Retired Buffalo Bulletin Publisher Jim Hicks largely agrees, although he acknowledges the difficulty posed by the deterioration of coal-bed methane in the region:

“I believe Buffalo is holding its own economic issues.  The area has seen a sharp decline in Coalbed Methane activities and a lot of those jobs and supporting industries have gone away. Buffalo expects to see some negative spin-off from the decline of coal production, but that should be minor.  Tourism is up this year and cattle prices remain at a level to keep at least a small smile on the faces of ranchers.”

Pat Henderson, executive director for Whitney Benefits in Sheridan, describes his town:

“Our Sheridan area is doing very, very well.  Tax receipts are up.  Housing prices continue to increase. Lots of people moving here.  California, Texas and Colorado. We have diversified a lot with our economy. 

“One big dark cloud is Cloud Peak mine operating up north of here in Montana. Most of the employees live in Sheridan County. Very good wages but great uncertainty with them staying open. Going through bankruptcy currently and looking for a bidder.  If this mine closes, it will be a considerable loss.  Need to pray for them and their families.”

Gillette attorney Tom Lubnau II, a former Speaker of the Wyoming House, remarked on oil’s temporary ability to mask the struggles of the Powder River Basin’s coal economy:

“I live in Gillette.   The economy is average to below average.   Oil is covering for the slump in coal, for awhile.”

Up in Park County, things are plugging along:

Powell real estate agent Dave Reetz says, “Our area is holding its own in my opinion.”

Powell Tribune Publisher Toby Bonner added:

“I would say our economy here in Powell has been holding its own… but unfortunately we’re beginning to see a downturn due to closings of key retail stores like Shopko and others. Amazon and other e-commerce have really hit our Main Street hard. Closings of these retail stores locally have really put a damper on retail advertising in the Powell Tribune as well. We have more doctors, dentists, legal and insurance offices now than retail.”

Snuggled up against the Idaho border, Lincoln County’s Star Valley is benefitting from spill over of the robust tourism economy in Teton County plus agriculture and agribusiness operations.

“The Star Valley area is doing well economically, says Sarah Hale, editor of the Star Valley Independent in Afton.

Up in Newcastle, Newcastle News Letter Journal Editor Alexis Barker says:

“Economically I think we are holding fairly steady, we have had low unemployment rates, a recent increase in our valuation and increases in our taxable sales. I wouldn’t say that these increases necessarily make us above average but are definitely making Newcastle not have to struggle as much as we have in the past. We are also looking at an increase in new businesses in the area with a new grocery store being built, a new travel center (truck stop) and a new private practice (doctor’s office) opening locally.” 

John Davis, a retired Worland attorney and author, says:

“We are below average. Worland has not recovered from the oil slowdown of a few years back, when all activity in the oil field slowed.  Especially ruinous was the closing of the Worland Schlumberger office.”

Cheyenne attorney Jack Speight says:

“Economy is very good here in Cheyenne thanks the government, Walmart distribution plant, and the other warehouse giants on the east and west side of town. You can’t forget F.E. Warren Air Force Base, which is huge boost to the economy and to the volunteer base for Frontier Days.”

Tom Satterfield, a retired member of the Wyoming Board of Equalization in Cheyenne, says:

“Cheyenne is doing above average thanks to the college, the air force base, good medical hospital and being the center of Wyoming government all contribute. The new renovation of the Herschler/Capitol complex was a big factor for the last four of five years.  Good little theater and a great symphony orchestra as well as a very active arts group and a fine Civic Center add to the enjoyment of every one. Also a very active economic organization LEADS are all factors making Cheyenne an enjoyable place to live.

But the former director of one of the state’s most visible business advocates is glum:

“I think the state is in serious trouble given future spending obligations and current revenue streams. Tourism is fine; coal–a transitional mainstay– is getting hammered,” says Bill Schilling. 

Former Sweetwater County Commissioner Paula Wonnacott says:

“I think our economy is OK. But, there are uncertainties and I think everyone is worried. There are numerous homes for sale.”

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