Prepared for The NIOSH Mountain and Plains Education and Research Center (MAP ERC)

Funding Source: This publication was supported by Grant Number 1T42OH009229-01 from CDC NIOSH Mountain
and Plains Education and Research Center. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official view of CDC NIOSH and MAP ERC.

Chapter 2: Wyoming’s Labor Market in Context

Wyoming, like many western states, has strong historical economic and cultural ties to natural resources. Jobs in mining and construction, both of which are growing industries in the state, are physically demanding and present more risk of injury than many jobs. This research uses injury data for 2004 from the Wyoming Workers’ Compensation (WC) claims file in conjunction with other data to identify earnings losses of injured workers when compared to similarly employed workers. Because of their importance to Wyoming, we focus on the natural resources & mining (mining in particular) and construction industries. These industries experienced incidence rates of nonfatal injuries in 2004 that were higher than the national average (U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, n.d.). For methodological reasons, we also focus on a sector of the health care industry. Despite the inherent risks of working in mining and construction, the seriousness of injuries can, to a large extent, be controlled through preventative efforts (Chelius, 1991). By focusing on workers at greatest risk for high-cost injuries, surveillance and preventative measures may be instituted to reduce the probability of injury.

In this section we discuss how the dynamics of the state’s economy influenced the factors available for analysis, shown in Table 1. These variables are a2t1conditions of the circumstances associated with injury rather than proximate factors associated with the event. Because our reference period is a single year, 2004, other unmeasured yet relevant factors (e.g., weather conditions unique to Wyoming) may change, limiting our ability to generalize the results and necessitating study replication. These other factors may interact with age, gender, and other factors.

The Labor Force in General

Figures 1 and 2 show the changing state of Wyoming’s labor force from 2000-a2g12008. Figure 1 illustrates labor force estimates, while Figure 2 shows the unemployment rate. Wyoming’s economy in 2004 was in the midst of an economic expansion. Growth in the labor force from 2000 to 2004 was more moderate than from 2005 to 2008. Research suggests a link between employee tenure and the a2g2likelihood of injury. Tenure itself may be affected by economic growth (see for example Smith, de Hoop, Marx, & Pine, 1999; Rinefort & Van Fleet, 1998). An influx of inexperienced workers in a relatively short time could result in higher-than-average injury rates.

Figure 1 shows that Wyoming added 7,938 people to the labor force (the sum of employed and unemployed) from 2000 to 2004 (270,274 to 278,212). Labor force growth accelerated following 2004, with the labor force growing by 18,600 to 296,812 in 2008.

The unemployment rate for Wyoming ranged from a high of 4.0% in 2003 to a low of 2.6% in 2006 (see Figure 2). From 2003 to 2004, the unemployment rate fell by 0.7 percentage points to 3.3%. While the labor force was growing, unemployment declined. This was especially true from 2005 to 2006, when the labor force grew by 1.6% and the unemployment rate stood at 2.6%.

Wyoming is one of five states (the four others are Ohio, North Dakota, Washington, and West Virginia) in which the state is the exclusive workers’ compensation insurance provider (National Academy of Social Insurance, 2008). There are some exceptions to the state monopoly, not all of which are long term. For example, in 2006, the National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI; 2008) estimated that 783 private carriers provided workers’ compensation insurance in Wyoming. Yet in 2005, there were no private providers (for further discussion, see Workers’ Compensation: Benefits, Coverage, and Costs, 2006 at http://www.nasi.org/publications2763/publications_show.htm?doc_id=702308&name=Disability).

Despite the near-monopoly on workers’ compensation insurance, not all employees in the state are covered by workers’ compensation. Exceptions include but are not limited to employees of private households, most employees of agriculture operations, and student employees of schools and colleges. In some instances, however, employers may elect to acquire Wyoming Workers’ Compensation coverage for their employees (Wyoming Workers’ Compensation Act, 1986). As a result, our study is not an exhaustive evaluation of workplace injuries and costs in the state, although the vast majority of Wyoming employees are covered.

Natural Gas Prices

After 2004, Wyoming experienced the most pronounced period of economic growth since the 1970s. The growth resulted in large part from higher energy a2g3prices, and natural gas prices in particular. Figure 3 shows monthly U.S. natural gas wellhead prices and Wyoming marketed production from January 2000 to October 2008. The lowest price was $2.19 per thousand cubic feet (mcf) in February 2002. Prices rose steadily, and by July 2004 had increased to $5.62 per mcf, more than double the February 2002 price. Prices nearly doubled yet again by June 2008 to $10.82 per mcf. Correspondingly, production in Wyoming steadily rose over the eight-year period. Production at its highest level in July 2008 (197,462 million cubic feet; MMcf) was more than twice what it had been in February 2000 (84,714 MMcf).

Industry Employment and Wages

Wyoming’s goods- and services-producing industries grew at 3.2% and 5.0%, respectively, from 2001 to 2004 (see Table 2a). From 2004 to 2008, however, a2t2agoods-producing industries had a marked advantage in employment growth over most other industries. Jobs worked in natural resources & mining rose from 20,413 in 2001 to 22,239 in 2004, the bulk of which was in the mining subsector. Employment growth was even more pronounced from 2004 to 2008 in natural resources & mining, with jobs rising by 8,930 (45.4%) to 28,619.
Growth in the construction industry was substantially lower from 2001 to 2004 compared to 2004 to 2008 (see Table 2a). From 2001 to 2004 employment grew by 412 (2.1%). Conversely the construction industry outpaced the natural resources & mining industry from 2004 to 2008 with growth of 41.3% (8,253 jobs).

Part of the growth in construction was tied to mining through the construction and expansion of natural gas pipelines (Bleizeffer 2006). Figure 4 shows the a2g4distribution of jobs worked in construction subsectors. The share of jobs worked in heavy construction grew from 24.1% in 2001 to 33.1% in 2008. Firms in this subsector are primarily engaged in infrastructure construction and include, among other types of firms, those engaged in oil and gas pipeline and related construction. This construction directly supports oil and gas firms by providing them with the capacity to export their products.

In response to the tighter labor market, wages grew significantly from 2001 to 2008. Figure 5 shows average weekly wages for 2001, 2004, and 2008 for all industries, and for construction and mining separately. Wage growth statewide a2g5was more moderate from 2001-2004 than from 2004-2008. In 2001, average weekly wages were $527. By 2004 wages had risen to $586, a gain of $59. By 2008 average weekly wages went up to $780, an increase of $194 from 2004.

With natural gas extraction the primary driver, wages rose even more in the mining industry than average wages for all industries. Average weekly wages in natural resources & mining rose by $66, from $1,023 in 2001 to $1,089 in 2004. By 2008, the average weekly wage increased to $1,440, which was $471 higher than the average weekly wage in 2001.

Wage increases were less pronounced in construction than in mining for both the 2001-2004 and 2004-2008 periods. The rise in the average weekly wage from 2001-2004 for mining was slightly more than double that of construction ($66 compared to $32). Although net wage gains in mining were also higher than construction from 2004-2008, the percent change for construction was greater during this period. The average weekly wage in mining rose by $351 from 2004 to 2008 compared to $254 for construction. On a percentage basis, mining wages rose by 32.2% while the change in the construction wage was 41.2%.


High turnover rates have been linked to increased rates of worker injury (Smith, de Hoop, Marx, & Pine, 1999; Rinefort & Van Fleet, 1998). Figure 6 shows the percentage of Wyoming workers who exited employment with an employer a2g6for first quarter 2003 (2003Q1) to 2005Q4 (for a discussion of turnover definitions, see Leonard, 2006). During this period, the percentage of Wyoming workers who left their employer ranged from approximately 25% to 40%. Mining had a lower-than-average percentage of exits while construction was significantly higher than average. The percentage of exiting workers in construction ranged from a low of 39.0% in 2005Q1 to a high of 84.8% in 2003Q4. Much of the exiting pattern in construction can be attributed to the seasonality of the industry (Lukasiewicz and Tschetter, 1983). Mining, which had the lowest percentage of exits in 2003Q1 and 2003Q2, was not immune from the increased turnover associated with the economic expansion. Over the 12 quarters, exits in mining went from 14.3% in 2003Q1 to 24.0% in 2005Q4.

Demographic Characteristics

On average, younger workers in Wyoming were injured more often on the job than their older colleagues in 2004 (see discussion). We anticipate the rate of employee injuries will decline as the average age of the workforce increases. However, declining injury rates may be less extensive in an economic expansion because of higher turnover rates.

Table 3 shows the distribution of employment by age group for all people employed at any time in Wyoming in 2000, 2004, and 2007. Between 2000 and a2t32007 the percentage of employees for whom demographic characteristics are not known increased. The percentage of these employees in Wyoming’s work force has grown steadily since the mid-1990s (Jones, n.d.). For current research purposes, this trend has two consequences. First, the absence of demographic characteristics limits our ability to create control groups based on these characteristics. Second, it restricts our ability to generalize our findings to the overall population. These limitations are especially problematic for industries such as construction that rely heavily on workers with limited attachment to the state.

In addition, the percentage of workers age 35 and under fell relative to older workers and those without known demographics. The decline was especially pronounced for workers 35-44. In 2000, 21.6% of employment was in this age group. By 2004 it had fallen to 17.3%, and to 14.6% in 2007.

As with the age distribution overall, the share of employment without known demographics increased in the natural resources & mining industry (see Table 4).a2t4 Unlike the overall distribution, the percentage of younger workers in natural resources & mining, in particular workers age 25-34, grew from 17.2% in 2000 to 19.0% in 2008.

The construction industry by far employed the most workers without known demographics (see Table 5). In a2t52004 approximately one-fourth of construction employees had no known demographics; by 2007 close to half (45.1%) of all workers in the construction industry were in this category. The lack of demographics for a substantial portion of the construction workforce exemplifies the issues associated with control groups and results generalization discussed earlier.

By age group, the biggest overall wage increase was for workers age 55-64 (see Table 6). From 2000 to 2004, the average annual wage rose by $6,608, a2t6from $27,307 per year to $33,915. Individuals in this age group saw even larger wage gains from 2004 to 2007, with the average annual wage rising by $8,002 to $41,917.

The proportion of men employed in Wyoming increased gradually from 2000 to a2g72007 (see Figure 7). In 2000, men constituted 51.7% of employment; by 2008 they accounted for 53.6% of all workers. Despite gains by women in construction and natural resources & mining, men made up nearly 90% of employment in these two industries.

Workers’ Compensation Claimants’ Characteristics

Table 7 shows the demographic characteristics and wages of Wyoming a2t7Workers’ Compensation claimants and non-claimants working at any time on the basis of their primary employers’ workers’ compensation coverage status. The discussion in this chapter is limited to employee claimants whose primary employer had coverage under the Wyoming Workers’ Compensation system. The mining and construction industry subsets are detailed in Tables 7 and 8, respectively. These three tables describea2t8 the industry, demographics, and earnings characteristics from which control and treatment groups will be selected as described in the next chapter.

A total of 13,890 employees working for employers with workers’ compensation coverage made claims in 2004. Men made twice as many workers’ compensation claims as women did. A total of 8,693 men made claims for Workers’ Compensation, while women made 4,370 claims. Although women accounted for 47.1% of total employment in 2004 (see Figure 7), just under one-third of workers’ compensation claimants were women.

Furthermore, the wages of men who were claimants were higher by about $10,000 than the wages of claimants who were women. For the highest wage claimant group, men age 45-54, annual wages were more than $13,000 higher than for women of the same age ($38,569 compared to $24,925). Male claimants earned an average of $30,563 annually compared to $20,278 for female a2g8claimants, a difference of $10,285. In comparison the difference between all employed men and women was $13,569 ($31,813 compared to $18,244; see Figure 8).

Of the 1,512 Workers’ Compensation-covered claimants in the mining industry, 1,347 (89.1%) were men. This proportion is slightly higher than the proportion of men employed in natural resources & mining overall (87.7%; a2g9see Figure 9). Female claimants’ average annual wages in mining differed less than male claimants’ wages than the wages for male and female claimants overall (Figure 10). Women in mining earned about $4,300 less than men in the industry, compared to approximately $10,000 for all female a2g10claimants. Earnings differences between male and female claimants were also narrower than for all those employed in the industry. In 2004, females employed in natural resources & mining earned $18,417 less annually than males compared to a difference of $4,300 for claimants.

Approximately 300 more employees working for Workers’ Compensation covered employers in construction filed claims than in the mining industry (see Figure 10). A total of 1,652 males made workers’ compensation claims. The proportion of male claimants employed in construction was similar to the proportion employed in the industry overall (89.1% of claimants compared to 88.6% in the industry overall). Claims were filed by 448 men age 25-34, the largest number by gender and age group.

a2t8The average annual wage in 2004 for all construction employees was $19,851. a2t9Construction industry claimants’ wages were about $3,000 less than for all employees in construction and nearly 50%lower than claimants in the miningindustry (see Tables 8 and 9). The wages of female claimants were $1,674 less than for construction employees overall. Conversely, male claimants’wages were $4,938 greater than for the average annual wage in construction.


Employee turnover is related to opportunities in the labor market. The more the economy is expanding the greater the likelihood that workers will engage in job changing (Mott, 2000; Economic Trends, 1998). Additionally, shorter tenure tends to be associated with workers who are younger or have less education or skills (Economic Trends, 1998). Lower skilled jobs are also usually more physical in nature and consequently present more risk of injury (Capell, 1995).

Lower employee tenure is also linked to increased frequency of accidents. A study of logging injuries in Louisiana (1999) found that most accidents happen to workers with less than three years of experience with their employer. A 1998 study of employees of an Indiana copper plant by Rinefort and Van Fleet found that workers were more frequently injured during the first three to five months of employment.

Tenure and employee age are strongly correlated. Nationally 49.6% of workers 20-24 years of age had worked for their current employer 12 months or less. For employees 45-54 years old the percentage with this level of tenure was only 11.0%. (U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2004).

In addition, 2004 Wyoming Workers’ Compensation claims data indicates that younger workers are more likely than their older colleagues to file a claim for workers’ compensation. Wyoming’s higher-than-average incidence of claims in the construction industry is most likely a reflection of the fact that the industry has a high turnover rate and that workers are younger than the statewide average. Nationwide, construction and extraction occupations constituted 6.0% of employment but accounted for 11.4% of nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses with days away from work (U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2005). Wyoming increasingly relies on a nonresident labor force (Jones, 2006). As demonstrated by the relatively large number of workers without known demographic characteristics, the construction industry depends on workers who have limited attachment to the state.

Classical economic theory suggests that workers employed in hazardous jobs will tend to earn higher wages in exchange for risk (Smith, 1776/1937). While occupations in mining and construction typically pay higher than average wages, there is a risk for working in these industries. Additionally, younger workers face the prospect of greater lifetime earnings losses when injured on the job compared to older workers (Viscusi, 1993).

Research Extensions

This study represents an important step in understanding the characteristics of workers and their injuries in mining and construction in Wyoming and other western states. Since younger employees are more frequently injured on the job than older workers, one extension could be to examine whether the rate of work-related injury decreases as the overall age of the work force increases. It also may expose differences in the types of injuries that occur to older workers, thus revealing potential targets for prevention activities. Another expansion of this research might address how injury characteristics change in the face of rapid economic expansion. In 2004, Wyoming’s economy was exiting a period of steady growth and entering a period of rapid economic expansion. Because low tenure has been linked to higher rates of injury, alternative prevention strategies may be necessary when employee tenure is relatively short. Additionally, Wyoming’s economy has increasingly come to rely on workers without known demographic characteristics, suggesting that they are most likely nonresidents. Replication of the study on other years of Workers’ Compensation data would help to determine to what degree, if any, these missing characteristics limit generalization of the results to other years. Last, a study of nonresidents who are injured may indicate characteristics unique to these employees and help target injury prevention actions.


The physical nature of many of Wyoming’s jobs makes them inherently risky. However, prevention efforts by both employers and employees could mitigate the risks. A number of factors contribute to the risk level such as the employee’s education, age, and tenure with an employer. Because 2004 was a year of transition from steady growth to rapid expansion, it is unclear whether the results found using the data from 2004 will be useful in generalizing to other years, particularly the years of rapid economic expansion, and for studying the increasing number of workers with limited attachment to the state.


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