CASPER — Wyoming’s unemployment rate rose slightly from 5.3% to 5.4% in April, according to new numbers released by the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services last week.
Despite that, the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate remains lower than the national average, which currently sits at 6.1%.
David Bullard, senior economist at the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services, told the Casper Star-Tribune there’s more than one way for unemployment rates to rise.
“The most obvious way is people lose their jobs,” Bullard said. “But the other way is people who are not in the labor force start looking for work. If they decide to start looking, then they become counted as unemployed.”
And that’s what the state saw during March and April, according to Bullard.
In May, Gov. Mark Gordon announced that Wyoming would end its participation in federal supplemental unemployment benefits starting June 19, joining several other states, including Montana and Idaho. Bullard believes that will encourage even more people to seek work, or at least move them in that direction.
The state’s unemployment rates from March to April typically fall due to seasonal job gains in construction, retail trade, and professional and business services, according to the report.
Park County’s rate decreased from 5.9% to 5.1%, Big Horn from 6.1% to 5.3%, and Johnson from 5.9% to 5.2%.
Natrona County, meanwhile, had the highest unemployment rate in April at 7.4%.
“We’ve seen large job losses in the energy sector over the past year,” Bullard said. “Natrona County and the Casper area are highly dependent on the energy sector, oil and gas.”
On top of that, Bullard pointed out that low energy prices have dinged businesses that support the energy sector, such as transportation and wholesale trade.
Last May, unemployment peaked at 8.5% in Wyoming, but by January, it dropped back down to 5.1%. Since then, it has gone up to 5.4%. Still, Bullard believes several factors have contributed to a quick recovery within the state.
“From my understanding, [Wyoming] never shut down the way some other states shut down,” Bullard said. “Even though we had restrictions, they weren’t as severe as what we see in many other states.”
Wyoming’s economy is also a little more diversified than some states, such as Hawaii, which has the highest unemployment numbers in the country, according to Bullard.
However, despite Wyoming’s relatively low unemployment numbers, the state faces an uncertain future with the decline of fossil fuels that have long propped up its economy. Earlier in the year, the Wyoming Legislature reduced the state’s spending by $430 million and eliminated 324 state positions.
Still, there is some reason for optimism ahead. Due to improved revenue projections, the 2022 state budget is being planned without cuts.