© Copyright 2006 by the Wyoming Department of Employment, Research & Planning


Vol. 43 No. 1

Changing Demographics of Wyoming Health Care: Identifying Potential Problems

by: Dr. Mark A. Harris, Ph.D., Sociologist
research by: Douglas W. Leonard, Senior Research Analyst

Changing demographics among individuals employed in health care continues to be an important topic for Wyoming. Understanding historical demographic and labor usage patterns provides factual information which can shed light on potential policy recommendations to alleviate labor shortages. By examining empirical data, policy makers can not only capitalize on and enhance trends already in process but understand where future problems may occur.

This research is made possible by the maintenance of administrative databases within the Wyoming Department of Employment, Research & Planning (R&P). The Wage Records database, in particular, contains the work history of all persons covered under Wyoming Unemployment Insurance.

Industry Growth

Wyoming health care has experienced substantial growth in continuously employed persons (attached workers with at least three quarters of continuous employment) over the period from first quarter 2000 (2000Q1) to 2005Q1 (see Table 1). On a percentage basis, ambulatory health care services (North American Industry Classification System [NAICS] 621) saw the largest change (up 36.8% or 1,779 persons). Hospitals (NAICS 622) and nursing & residential care facilities (NAICS 623) grew more slowly (13.9% and 14.0%, respectively).

Changes in the age distribution of persons continuously employed in health care are similar across ambulatory health care services, hospitals, and nursing & residential care facilities (see Figures 1, 2, and 3, respectively). Across all three, the percentage of resident persons age 35-44 decreased between 2000Q1 and 2005Q1. Conversely, the percentage of resident persons age 55+ and nonresidents (unknown age) increased over the same time period. All three industries are now more reliant upon older resident and nonresident labor than in the recent past (i.e., 2000Q1 compared to 2005Q1). The percentage of residents among the younger age groups (i.e., those age 34 or under) remained relatively flat over time (most clearly seen in ambulatory health care services and hospitals).

From 2000Q1 to 2005Q1 (see Figure 4), resident women made up a declining percentage of continuously employed persons in ambulatory health care services, hospitals, and nursing & residential care facilities. The percentage of resident men remained relatively stable for all three industries.

The number of continuously employed women age 45-54 and 55+ working in hospitals increased by 292 and 400, respectively, between 2000 and 2005 (see Figure 5). The number of women age 35-44 working in hospitals during the same period substantially declined by 439. Additionally, increased aging in the two oldest categories is not offset by increases in the number of women in the three youngest age cohorts between 2000 and 2005 (692 compared to 287).

Women have traditionally filled the majority of jobs in nursing so a decline in the number of women working in health care results in a decline in the number of nurses. In 2000Q1, women represented 83.3% of all Wyoming employees continuously employed in hospitals (see Figure 6). Five years later, that percentage had dropped to 79.7%.

The age profile for nurses (both men and women) working in hospitals is heavily concentrated in the older age categories (see Figure 7). The data pattern signifies the aging of workers in hospitals and portends future labor shortages, particularly among nurses. In the past, this decline was primarily offset by an increase in nonresident workers across the same time period, from 10 nonresident workers in 2000Q1 to 268 in 2005Q1. Future research may determine the extent to which nonresident labor can satisfy the demand.


Data provided here indicate that the age distribution for persons continuously working in health care is becoming older over time and that the situation is problematic for women and nurses working in hospitals. To fill vacancies, health care has increasingly relied upon nonresident labor. The data suggest that in-state supply has not kept pace with demand. A stronger national and regional economy will make it increasingly difficult to fill vacancies with resident labor without a subsequent and substantial increase in the supply of residents. Current in-state supply capacity is beyond the scope of this article.

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