© Copyright 2001 by the Wyoming Department of Employment, Research & Planning

Looking at Wyoming's Economy from a New Perspective: Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) Major Groups
by: David Bullard, Senior Economist

Traditionally, economic analysis has focused on industries. Industries are types of activities in which businesses are engaged (e.g., coal mining, oil refining or retail trade). This article focuses on occupations, which are groups of similar jobs found in different industries or organizations (e.g., bookkeepers, truck drivers or sales clerks). The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) recently revised the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) system. The SOC system classifies jobs into 822 detailed occupations based on “work performed and on required skills, education, training, and credentials.”1 These detailed occupations are combined to form 98 minor groups and 22 major groups. Because of the difficulty of looking at hundreds of individual occupations, this article only examines employment and wages in the 22 major groups.

Figure 1 shows the percentage of wage and salary employment found in each of the 22 major groups in Wyoming and in the United States in fourth quarter 1999. Many of the major groups employ a similar percentage of workers in Wyoming and the U.S. For example, Protective Service Occupations account for 2.3 percent of total U.S. employment and 2.2 percent of total Wyoming employment. However, in other occupational categories there are significant differences between Wyoming and the U.S. These differences can be explained by the different industrial makeup of the Wyoming labor market and the U.S. labor market.

In comparing Wyoming to the U.S., we divided these groups into two categories: proportionally overrepresented occupations and underrepresented occupations.

Overrepresented Occupations in Wyoming

Construction & Extraction Occupations employ 9.2 percent of Wyoming workers, but only 4.7 percent of U.S. workers. This is the occupational category into which many workers in Wyoming’s Mining industry are classified. As a proportion of total employment, Wyoming’s Mining industry is the largest of any state.

Food Preparation & Serving Occupations account for 10.6 percent of Wyoming workers, 3.0 percentage points more than the U.S. This difference appears related to Wyoming’s tourism industry. Wyoming has a higher proportion of employment in eating & drinking places than the U.S. (7.3% compared to 6.2%).

Installation, Maintenance & Repair Occupations employ 4.0 percent of workers in the U.S., but 5.9 percent of Wyoming workers. This occupational group includes such occupations as mechanics, millwrights and machinery maintenance workers.

The Building & Grounds Cleaning & Maintenance Occupations group is overrepresented in Wyoming. It accounts for 3.4 percent of U.S. employment and 4.7 percent of Wyoming employment. Its overrepresentation can be explained by the large size of Wyoming’s tourist industry, especially hotels & other lodging places. Nationally, hotels & other lodging places represents only 1.4 percent of total employment, but in Wyoming it represents 4.0 percent.

Wyoming’s overrepresentation in Transportation & Material Moving Occupations is also related to our large Mining industry as well as its associated transportation industry (railroad and trucking).

Education, Training & Library Occupations employ 6.9 percent of Wyoming workers, but only 5.8 percent of all U.S. workers. Wyoming’s overrepresentation in this occupational group may be related to the rural nature of our state and our large number of small schools. Looking at student to teacher ratios seems to confirm this notion. In the 1999-2000 school year, the national student/teacher ratio for all public schools was 16.2, while Wyoming’s ratio was 13.9.2 The difference in ratios may not seem significant, but if Wyoming’s ratio were at the national average, we would have 900 fewer teachers. Table 1 is a ranking of the 50 states and the District of Columbia by student/teacher ratio. Interestingly, Wyoming’s geographic neighbors are spread throughout the ranking. Utah is ranked first, meaning that it has the largest ratio, or the largest number of students per teacher. Colorado and Idaho are also above the national average. Wyoming’s more rural neighbors, Montana, Nebraska and South Dakota are all below the national average, indicating smaller class sizes. In fact, at 14.1 and 14.0, respectively, South Dakota and Nebraska are very similar to Wyoming.

Underrepresented Occupations in Wyoming

Production Occupations employ 9.9 percent of U.S. workers, but in Wyoming, they only account for 5.4 percent of all jobs. Since production occupations are found primarily in the Manufacturing industry, the relatively small size of Manufacturing employment in Wyoming may explain this difference. In 1999, Manufacturing employed 4.8 percent of Wyoming workers and 14.4 percent of U.S. workers. However, Manufacturing in Wyoming seems to be weighted heavily toward those industries which pay well, such as oil refining and chemicals. This helps explain why the relatively few employees in Production Occupations in Wyoming earn more than their U.S. counterparts (see Figure 2).

Office & Administrative Support Occupations are also underrepresented in Wyoming. Nationally, 17.7 percent of jobs are in this occupational category, but only 14.1 percent of Wyoming jobs are found in this category. This difference can be partially explained by Wyoming’s small Finance, Insurance & Real Estate (FIRE) industry. Financial institutions and insurance companies tend to employ large numbers of tellers, secretaries, clerks and other occupations which fall into this category.

Computer & Mathematical Occupations employ less than one percent of Wyoming workers, but account for 2.1 percent of U.S. jobs.

Mean Annual Wages in SOC Major Groups

Figure 2 shows that the mean annual wage is higher in the U.S. than in Wyoming for 19 of the 22 major occupational groups. The three groups which pay more in Wyoming are Farming, Fishing & Forestry; Production; and Transportation & Material Moving.

The differences in wages could be related to several factors. A different mix of industries in Wyoming could lead to a different mix of occupations within each group and cause lower or higher average wages at the major group level. Cost of living may also play a role, but with no official government statistics on interstate cost of living differences, reliable numbers are hard to obtain.


Differences in the occupational structure of Wyoming’s economy can largely be explained by differences in industries. Mining and tourism are relatively large industries in Wyoming, while Manufacturing and FIRE are relatively small. The relative size of Wyoming’s industries can be explained by natural resource endowments as well as historical patterns of development.

1U.S. Office of Management and Budget, Standard Occupational Classification Manual, 2000, p. xii.

2Lena McDowell, “Early Estimates of Public Elementary and Secondary Education Statistics: School Year 1999-2000,” Education Statistics Quarterly, Volume 2, Issue 2, Summer 2000. Also available on the Internet: http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2000/quarterly/summer/2feat/q2-4.html (April 3, 2001).

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