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Unemployment rate rises slightly

By Nate Perez
Casper Star-Tribune
Via- Wyoming News Exchange

CASPER — Wyoming’s unemployment rate rose slightly from 5.3% to 5.4% in April, according to new numbers by the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services.

Despite that, the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate remains lower than the national average of 6.1%.

David Bullard, senior economist at the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services, pointed out 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 between March and April, according to Bullard.

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%.  Lincoln County remained unchanged at 5.2%.

Natrona County, meanwhile, had the highest unemployment rate last month 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 points out that low energy prices have affected 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 contributed to a quick recovery within the state.

“From my understanding, (Wyoming) never shut down the way some other states shut down,” he 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.

Still, despite the low unemployment numbers, the state faces an uncertain future with the decline of fossil fuels that have long propped up Wyoming’s economy. Earlier in the year, the Legislature reduced the state’s spending by $430 million and eliminated 324 state position.

However, there is some reason for optimism ahead. The 2022 state budget is being planned without cuts due to improved revenue projections.

Earlier this spring, Gov. Mark Gordon ended federal supplemental unemployment benefits, joining several other states including Montana and Idaho. Bullard believes that will encourage more people to find work, or in the minimum, move people toward that direction.

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