© Copyright 1999 by the Wyoming Department of Employment, Research & Planning

Wyoming-Attached Workers: Living and Working in Wyoming
by: Krista R. Shinkle, Senior Statistician

"Even though their employment status is continuously changing, Wyoming-attached workers routinely return to Wyoming's labor force."

For some Wyomingites, the small cities, low population, virtually nonexistent traffic jams, clean air and open spaces are the main reasons we choose to reside in Wyoming. However, living in a state with only 487,210 people(1) can prove difficult when trying to find employment sufficient to support oneself and one’s family. Possible solutions to the challenge of earning a living in our state are to work seasonal or temporary jobs, work more than one job or change jobs as the need for higher earnings dictates. During the six-year period from 1992 to 1997, the average annual number of individuals covered under Unemployment Insurance (UI)(2) was 278,586. Nearly 40 percent of these people (109,686 individuals) began and ended at least five employment positions during that same time period. Developing various employment strategies is one approach to maintaining financial stability for those individuals who choose to stay in Wyoming.

Research & Planning continues its look at Wyoming’s labor force attachment with part two of a five-part series. To help illustrate the topic of this part of the series, we will refer to an article that appeared in a previous issue of Wyoming Labor Force Trends(3). The article, "The Wyoming Wage Record Classification System," introduced a method of dividing Wyoming’s labor force into different categories based on employment characteristics. The data found in Table 1 was originally published in the aforementioned article. The table shows the distribution of workers by different employment classifications. In the table, the employment groups are ranked in order of attachment from those workers with the highest attachment to those with the lowest attachment.

The time span is one important difference between the classification system used in the article "The Wyoming Wage Record Classification System," and the classification system used in the current five-part series of articles on labor force attachment. The aforementioned article analyzed employment characteristics using one year of data. Alternatively, each part of the current series of articles uses data from a six-year period (1992-1997). The difference in the time period makes certain adjustments necessary. For example, this article examines those individuals who fall into the middle range of job attachment. We will call these individuals Wyoming-attached workers. Wyoming-attached workers can fall into more than one of the classification groups identified in Table 1. At one point during the six-year study period, a Wyoming-attached worker could have been a steady worker/different employer, a multiple job holder, a job changer, a seasonal worker or any combination. This article looks at the characteristics of Wyoming-attached workers and what their attachment could mean to Wyoming’s economy.


The database for this article was compiled using wage records(4) and a demographics file(5). The wage records file is a report of wages earned by an individual. Wage records list information by employer and by quarter. Consequently, every time an individual begins employment with a new employer or returns to a previous employer after termination, a new record is created detailing the employer, wages and quarter information. This means that a unique Social Security Number (SSN) can appear several times. For example, if a person changes from one employer to another s/he will appear twice on wage records. The person would also be listed twice if s/he worked for an employer, left the company and was then rehired by the company at a later time.

For the purposes of this article, the terms job and position will be used interchangeably in order to avoid confusion. To illustrate this point, we will use an individual who spent two summers working in highway construction and one year as a bartender. Wage records would list this individual three times (one record for each employment occasion). To say that s/he held three jobs would be incorrect because highway construction might be considered one job and bartending another. It would be more correct to say that s/he held three positions. However, a change in position does not always mean a change in employment. While working as a bartender, s/he could have been promoted from assistant bartender to head bartender. A promotion in this situation might change the number of positions held to four, which would also be incorrect. Wage records would not recognize the promotion as a change in employment because the employer remained the same and there was no break in service. Therefore, within the context of this article, a job and a position both refer to a period of employment with a beginning and ending date (or one record on the wage records file).

We examined the wage records for each individual. The criteria for including an individual in the study were that s/he worked in Wyoming during any quarter of 1992, and was still working in Wyoming during any quarter of 1997. For the purposes of this article, only workers who held five or more jobs during the study period were included in the database. We determined that eliminating individuals having fewer than five employment changes would narrow the scope of the database and allow for better comparisons between the types of employment positions held. Additionally, in order to examine all employment positions held by Wyoming-attached workers, both full- and part-time work were included with no distinctions made between the two.

Table 2 shows the number of workers by the number of employment positions held per person during the 1992-97 period. As mentioned above, only individuals who held five or more positions were included in the study. Thus, five jobs are the least number held per person during the six-year study period, with 48 being the most jobs worked by an individual.

By matching SSN’s in the demographics file with SSN’s in wage records, we determined the age and gender of the Wyoming-attached workers included in the study. Since information in the demographics file is obtained from driver’s licenses, unemployment insurance records and vocational rehabilitation files, participants in Wyoming’s labor force who have an out-of-state license or have never filed for unemployment are excluded. Therefore, demographics are unavailable for some of the workers in the study group.

The Figure shows the distribution of Wyoming-attached workers by age and gender. The greatest concentration of Wyoming-attached workers are those aged 25 - 34 years. Since the age groups in the figure represent the age of the Wyoming-attached worker in 1992, these people would be 32 - 41 years old today. The largest group of Wyoming-attached workers are male (46.4%). Female workers comprise 40.2 percent of the total. Missing demographics account for the remaining 13.4 percent.

Seasonal work can influence job changing

Based on available data, it is impossible to know why a person leaves one position and begins employment elsewhere. One explanation could be that s/he is working in an occupation affected by seasonal fluctuations. Seasonal fluctuations most commonly refer to the changes in employment demand brought on by the change from summer to winter and vice versa. Since the weather in Wyoming changes so drastically from summer to winter, there is a tremendous impact on the employment levels for certain industries, such as Construction and tourism.

Table 3 shows the ten most frequently occurring industry groups (two-digit SIC)(6) for all jobs held by Wyoming-attached workers. Four of the top ten industry groups are affected by seasonal fluctuations of the weather. The industry group hotels, rooming houses, camps & other lodging places (SIC 70) usually includes occupations relating to summer or winter vacations, outdoor activities, camping, parks, etc. The other three groups affected by the weather are all part of the Construction industry. In Wyoming, the summer season does not last very long, so construction companies are extremely busy and work long hours. As the weather turns colder, construction work slows significantly. In order to continue making a living in Wyoming, Wyoming-attached workers working in "seasonal" occupations must be willing to adapt as the seasons dictate by changing jobs, relocating or performing different duties within a company.

Despite the uncertainty associated with it, some Wyoming-attached workers may choose to work seasonally because it gives them an opportunity to earn a salary for an activity they particularly enjoy. Wyoming is an excellent place for finding employment that many people would consider more fun than work. For example, a person might spend the summer working "odd jobs" in order to work as a ski instructor all winter. Alternatively, someone interested in hunting could work as a guide during hunting season. For some people, the opportunity of earning a living through recreation is worth the sacrifice of having to change employment frequently or work multiple jobs.

Seasonal fluctuations can also refer to other cyclical patterns as well. The third highest frequency of job change occurs in educational service industries (SIC 82). The annual transition between school year and summer vacation accounts for most job changes in this industry group. A number of teachers, administrators and others involved in running our schools work second jobs during the summer break. Individuals other than those working in educational services might be affected by school year fluctuations as well. For example, students who work during the summer months or who work part-time and go to school in the fall also appear likely to experience employment changes as they leave and/or return to school. The fact that individuals working in educational services change employment positions according to the school year is common across the United States and Wyoming is no exception.

Supplementing incomes to stay in Wyoming

Wyoming’s wages are some of the lowest in the country; in 1997, Per Capita Personal Income (PCPI) ranked 35th in the nation(7). In order to make ends meet, relocating to a state with higher wages would seem a logical choice. Of course, the higher wages in other states are too often accompanied by higher population density and its commensurate levels of traffic, crime, pollution and many other attributes to which we, in Wyoming, are not accustomed. Wyomingites seem to prefer the benefits of smaller cities and fewer people. Unfortunately, the small labor force, the isolation and the lack of adequate commercial transportation may also keep some businesses and high-paying positions from coming into the state. Many Wyoming-attached workers have come up with one solution to the problem of earning enough money to support themselves and their families while still being able to live and work in Wyoming. They sustain their income by working more than one job at a time.

The industry group eating and drinking establishments (SIC 58) has the highest frequency of jobs held by Wyoming-attached workers. These types of jobs are readily available and do not require specialized skills, which is why Wyoming-attached workers might choose to work in this industry group when looking to supplement their income. Once the skills required for these types of occupations are learned, they are transferable among a variety of similar establishments. Wyoming-attached workers already working a full-time job might choose to work in eating and drinking establishments because these establishments often have flexible hours and are willing to work around an individual’s existing employment schedule. Eating and drinking establishments are not the only places individuals look for an additional job. Every industry includes both full- and part-time occupations that can be used to supplement income.

Industrial and geographic attachment among Wyoming-attached workers

There seems to be a preference among Wyoming-attached workers to stay with the same type of work. Of Wyoming-attached workers, 42.9 percent (47,022) are attached to a specific major industry group at least 50 percent of the time. For example, a person may have worked ten different jobs, but at least five of them would be in the same industry group, such as eating and drinking establishments. This might indicate that even though Wyoming-attached workers are changing employment, the new positions are usually similar to previous positions. One reason Wyoming-attached workers might look for work in similar industries is to capitalize on their previous experience. By developing specific job skills, Wyoming-attached workers may be able to earn higher wages because employers tend to pay higher salaries to experienced employees.

Wyoming-attached workers also tend to stay within a particular county. Nearly 78.2 percent (85,798) of all Wyoming-attached workers were employed in the same county at least 50 percent of the time. There are several possible reasons a Wyoming-attached worker might choose to stay in one area. For example, it is likely that many county-attached workers are homeowners and are unwilling to sell their houses. It could be that her/his spouse is unable to relocate, so the Wyoming-attached worker may be limited to position openings within her/his area. Wyoming-attached workers might also be tied to a certain area if s/he does not want her/his children to have to change schools. Some Wyoming-attached workers may choose to stay in a certain county because their parents or other family members live in the area. Perhaps the Wyoming-attached worker grew up in the area and is unwilling to leave her/his home town. Because Wyoming has such a variety of landscapes and scenery, a Wyoming-attached worker might choose to live and work in a specific area for that reason alone.

What can we conclude?

Wyoming-attached workers are an important component of Wyoming’s economy. Even though their employment status is continuously changing, Wyoming-attached workers routinely return to Wyoming's labor force. They provide support to the communities where they live and work by putting their salaries back into the local economy. Because of Wyoming-attached workers’ willingness to remain in Wyoming, they are a potentially valuable source of currently underutilized labor available to new businesses. They are willing participants in the Wyoming labor force, as evidenced by their continued presence in Wyoming’s wage record files. Wyoming-attached workers have skills and experience that could be used by new businesses to start an operation here in Wyoming and new businesses would have a strong indication that their employees would continue to live and work here.

Wyoming-attached workers themselves may look to new businesses as a way of gaining a permanent position. For Wyoming-attached workers who must continually look for new jobs as employment conditions change, a position in a steady work environment might prove ideal. A new business in the right location may turn out to have long-term employment potential for a county-attached worker.

For individuals having difficulty finding work or for participants in Vocational Rehabilitation, a Wyoming-attached worker might be a valuable source of information on how to successfully enter the labor market. The Wyoming-attached workers in our study held at least five jobs during the six-year study period. Their experience and skills in areas of finding work and getting hired might be helpful to someone who has been less than successful in securing employment.

Wyoming-attached workers are significant members of our labor force. These people have been participants in the Wyoming workforce for at least six years and many for a great deal longer. Based on their attachment to Wyoming, there is a good chance that many Wyoming-attached workers will continue to be involved in their communities and in the Wyoming labor market for years to come. Consequently, it may be worthwhile to look towards these members of the labor market who are constantly changing their employment situations as a better indicator of potential labor rather than focusing entirely on the unemployment rate as an indicator of labor availability.

1 1998 population projection, U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census.

2 UI covered employment does not include individuals who are unemployed or not covered by Unemployment Insurance, such as self-employed and agricultural workers.

3 Brett Judd, "The Wyoming Wage Classification System," Wyoming Labor Force Trends, March 1998, pp. 1-3.

4 Wayne M. Gosar, "Wyoming Unemployment Insurance Wage Record Summary Statistics: A New Way To Look At Wyoming," Trends, May 1995, pp. 4-5.

5 Demographic information is obtained from a number of source databases including: driver’s licenses, unemployment insurance records and vocational rehabilitation files.

6 The major industry group or two-digit SIC refers to the Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) coding system. The system consists of four levels of classification, with the fourth level listing specific industries. The first level separates firms or businesses into one of ten different industry divisions (Agriculture; Mining; Construction; Manufacturing; Transportation, Communications, & Public Utilities; Wholesale Trade; Retail Trade; Finance, Insurance, & Real Estate; Services; Public Administration.) The second level (two-digit) separates the occupations within each industry division into major industry groups (such as forestry within Agriculture, coal mining within Mining, building construction - general contractors & operative builders within Construction and furniture & fixtures within Manufacturing).

7 Refer to "Bureau of Economic Analysis Regional Facts (BEARFACTS): Wyoming 1996-97."

The May issue of Wyoming Labor Force Trends presents part three in this series of five articles analyzing labor force attachment, focusing on workers attached to the Wyoming labor market and to one specific employer. The June and July issues will conclude the series.

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