By Victoria Eavis
Via- Wyoming News Exchange
CASPER — A number of the top ten states with the largest population growth from 2020 to 2021 were Wyoming’s neighbors, but the Cowboy State fell far behind.
Half of the top ten states, including the top four states, with the largest annual percent population growth were in the West: Idaho led the nation with 2.9%, followed by Utah, Montana and Arizona, while Nevada ranked ninth.
Wyoming’s annual growth ranked 22nd highest in the nation.
Wyoming’s total resident population grew “slightly” by 1,536 people for a total of 578,803 as of July 2021, according to estimates released last week by the U.S. Census Bureau.
The growth can mainly be attributed to net migration of roughly 1,300. This positive net migration means that 1,368 more residents moved into Wyoming than moved out of the state between 2020 and 2021.
The rest of the growth came from the difference between births and deaths.
Wyoming had a “natural increase” of about 170, meaning that there were 170 more births than deaths.
“Wyoming’s natural population increase has slowed tremendously over the last couple of years,” Amy Bittner, the principal economist with the State of Wyoming Economic Analysis Division, said in a press release. “COVID-19 may have prompted more people to move to Wyoming than leave the state.”
COVID-19 is also substantially responsible for changes in employment rates, which affect population changes. From July 2020 to July 2021, the in-state employment rate increased 3.1%, after July 2020 was “one of the worst economically impacted months from COVID-19.”
Total employment in July 2020 was among the lowest since 2005.
Employment rebounding from July 2020 to July 2021 “shows Wyoming is slowly recovering from some of the economic impacts of the pandemic,” a press release from the Economic Analysis Division read.
“Employment opportunities drive migration into an area, which is typically true for Wyoming,” Bittner said.
In the U.S. as a whole, the population grew at the slowest rate in the nation’s history over the last year: 0.1% or 392,665 people.
This past year was the first time since 1937 that the U.S. population grew by less than one million people. It was also the lowest numeric growth since 1900. The slow nationwide population growth is due to decreasing net international migration, lower birth rates, and increased mortality from the COVID-19 pandemic, the press release said.
Sixteen states and the District of Columbia lost population over the last year.
“Wyoming is experiencing some of the same issues as the U.S. when it comes to natural population growth, declining birth rates and an increased aging population,” Bittner said in the release. “Since Wyoming’s natural increase in population (births minus deaths) was flat over the year, the majority of the State’s population increase was from people moving into the state (positive net migration).”
The decade-long data tells a similar story.
The Cowboy State’s slow growth compared to its neighbors is not just a product of the pandemic — Wyoming’s population grew the slowest of any state in the West over the last decade as well. Wyoming had the seventh-slowest population growth in the U.S by approximately 13,000 since 2010 for a 2.3% growth rate.
On the decade, the population of the U.S. grew by 7.1%. The Western region, which includes Wyoming, reportedly grew by 9.2%.
According to Wyoming Chief Economist Wenlin Liu, the last 10 years saw the state’s slowest growth rate since the 1980s, the Star-Tribune previously reported. In the 2010 census, Wyoming’s population had grown around 14.1% since 2000.
Liu attributed Wyoming’s slow growth rate to economic downturn in the energy sector since the mid-2010s. In 2015 and 2016, according to state data, 9,200 mineral extraction jobs were lost.
“The economy nationwide, particularly in neighboring states such as Colorado, Utah, and Idaho showed strong expansions, which attracted many Wyoming energy workers and residents during the second half of the decade,” Liu said in an April press release.
Approximately 11,800 more people have left Wyoming than moved into the state since 2010.
According to state data, there were roughly 72,000 births compared to 47,000 deaths in Wyoming since the last census.
Utah saw the biggest boom in the nation, growing by 18.4% since 2010. Idaho and North Dakota had the second- and fourth-fastest growing populations, increasing by 17.3% and 15.8% respectively.
Just three states saw a decrease in population on the decade.