SUBLETTE COUNTY – Wyoming’s economic indicators in March show expected ups and downs as the state continues to struggle to regain its footing after the 2008 recession.
The same was true for Sublette County, which showed further declines in population, available jobs and unemployed civilian workers from February to March 2017, according to the Department of Workforce Services (DWS).
The DWS’ unemployment report for March also shows the county’s labor force dropped from February to March by 20 people to 4,237, with 3,999 of that labor force employed, down 12 from February – but up from March 2016 with 3,823 employed countywide.
Also in Sublette County, the number of unemployed has eased lower, from 351 in March 2016 to 246 in February and 238 in March, bring March’s unemployment rate to 5.6 percent – well down from 8.4 percent in March 2016 – pointing to 33.3 percent change in the local unemployment rate.
The lower unemployment rate and reduced labor force indicate some of those people moved away from Sublette County; these numbers were not seasonally adjusted.
“Not seasonally adjusted data reflect the actual economic conditions in a given year for a given time period … (to) show the normal seasonal changes that occur in the economy,” the DWS report says.
The Wyoming Economic Indicators report, released May 17 by the Department of Administration and Information (DAI) Economic Analysis Division (EAD), reveals that two components – the state’s unemployment rate and mineral taxes – did improve slightly since May 2016. Two other components – private hourly wages and visits to the state’s national parks – showed similarly slight declines.
These four components make up the Wyoming Business-Cycle Index (WCBI) and are used “to sum up current economic conditions in a single number.”
That single number as of March was 95.59, with the first WCBI set at 100 percent in January 2007. That is up from February’s value of 94.94 but down compared to March 2016’s value of 96.18.
“The state’s unemployment rate had been improving each month since May of 2016 and was also lower in March compared to a year ago,” says the EAD update.
The state’s jobless rate was up .76 percent year-to-year with the March job count at 278,500, or 6,100 fewer jobs than in March 2016. The one positive category of education and health jobs grew by .4 percent or 100 jobs. Every other category measured showed year-to-year declines for March with the top five areas of jobs lost were mining and logging (down 5.6 percent); trade, transportation and utilities (down 4 percent or 2,200 jobs); goods producing (down 3.7 percent) and financial activities (also down 3.7 percent).
“Within the WCBI model, the employment rate statistic (1.00 or 100 percent minus the unemployment rate) is indexed rather than the unemployment rate because an increase in the employment rate, similar in increases to private wages, mining taxes and park visits are considered to be positive impacts on the economy,” states the WCBI addendum.
The component of mining taxes improved by .20 percent year to year in the WCBI report for March, bringing in $7.1 million, which is $1.4 million more than for March 2016.
“After three months into calendar year 2017, total collections were behind the three-year average over the same number of months by $15.1 million,” it says.
“The state’s collection of the 4-percent sales and use tax associated with the mining sector had improved as well,” it says. Because sales and use tax collections represent transactions occurring four to six weeks earlier, “the data is lagged one month for use in the WCBI model.”
“This indicator is included because it represents mining activity which is an important part of the Wyoming economy,” it says. “As of 2014, almost 36 percent of Wyoming’s annual GDP was attributed to the mining industry.”
Weekly wages down
On the wane for this past March were private sector weekly wages, down .79 percent from March 2016. This was due to two of its three “sub-components” falling – private jobs and hours worked.
Although private sector jobs grew 500 positions from February to March this year, for a total of 207,800, they declined from March 2016 by 5,100 jobs. As for average weekly hours, those declined to 32.9 two months ago compared to 33.4 in March 2016.
Accompanying charts show the highest numbers of private sector jobs occurred between 2014 and 2015 and plummeted in 2016 to the lowest level since 2011.
Also, average weekly earnings that hit a peak of $850 to $900 in 2012 and then “fell considerably in March to $775.12 compared to February’s $783.42 and March 2016’s $776.88, it states.
Its third subcategory, hourly earnings, showed a very modest hike of 30 cents an hour, to $23.56 in March from $23.26 in March 2016. The EAD noted these data were not adjusted seasonally or for inflation.
In the final indicator, visits to Wyoming’s national parks for the first quarter of 2017 dropped 7.1 percent to 220,100 compared to 2016’s first-quarter total of 237,000, the highest numbers noted in this report as compiled by the National Park Service.
“The park visits’ statistic includes recreational visits to all national sites located in Wyoming including Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, Devils Tower and Fossil Buttes national monuments, Ft. Laramie Historic Site, Bighorn Recreation Area and the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway,” it says, adding the dates are seasonally adjusted.
“Park visits are included because they capture another critical part of Wyoming’s economy,” it explains. “Visitor numbers should improve with the onset of summer.”
Projected vs. actual
Based on past industry data, DFW Research and Planning (R&P) posted short-term projections in February for an educated guess at March’s available jobs, overall and broken down by industry.
For example, R&P predicted a conservative total of 270,904 total nonfarm jobs for March, compared to the actual estimated total of 272,000 – a welcome .4 percent difference for 1,096 more total nonfarm jobs than expected.
Also, R&P forecasts lowballed actual jobs in the natural resources & mining, construction and transportation & utilizes industries. On the other hand, R&P predictions for the retail, financial activities, professional & business services, leisure & hospitality and government employment sectors for March were in some cases slightly too optimistic. In these industries, projections fell short of their employment targets across Wyoming.