Wyoming’s unemployment rate fell in August for the first time in 18 months, the Department of Workforce Services reported Tuesday. The shift from 5.7 percent unemployment in July to 5.5 percent last month is not a statistically significant drop, but it offers hope that the state economy is stabilizing.
Natrona County had the fourth-largest decrease in joblessness, with unemployment falling from 7.3 percent in July to 6.8 percent in August.
The news of an uptick in jobs comes weeks after Casper City Manager V.H. McDonald told the city council that based on August numbers, local sales tax revenue appeared to be stabilizing.
“It does represent a bit of a change from what we’ve seen recently,” workforce services economist David Bullard said. “Unemployed people went back to work.”
The statewide unemployment rate remains slightly higher than the national rate of 4.9 percent.
While the summer months often see an uptick in employment numbers due to hiring in the construction and tourism industries, Bullard said the state accounted for seasonal changes in their calculations. The real Wyoming unemployment rate in August was just 4.9 percent compared to 5 percent nationally — however, the reported 5.5 percent unemployment rate came after accounting for seasonal changes.
In a positive sign for the prospects of Wyoming’s energy industry, Campbell County reported the largest decrease in jobless numbers, down from 7.5 percent to 6.8 percent. The county is home to some of the state’s biggest coal mines.
Charlene Murdock, executive director of the county’s chamber of commerce, said large-scale layoffs at mines had ceased and that some were hiring back employees.
There is often a lag in both layoffs and hiring decisions, Murdock said. Industries serving the energy sector suffer from layoffs like those that took place at Gillette-area coal mines in the spring, but the negative impact often does not show up until weeks or months after the initial layoffs. When it comes to hiring, companies often do not bring new employees on board until well after they have decided to grow their workforce.
“We’re holding our own and it seems to be stabilizing,” Murdock said. “People are finding the new norm.”
Unemployment fell in 21 counties in August and remained unchanged in Laramie and Carbon counties.
Despite the slight uptick in employed Wyomingites during August, the state remains well behind where it was one year ago. Statewide unemployment was 4.3 percent in August 2015 and as low as 3.6 percent in Campbell County; last year Natrona County had a 4.8 percent unemployment rate.
Bullard, the state economist, urged caution in interpreting the unemployment rate drop.
“This is a slight indication of improvement in the economy in August,” Bullard said. “But, you know, that may be it.”