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Abstract: Using Current Employment Statistics (CES) data, this article identifies which industry sectors have returned to pre-pandemic employment levels, and which still lag behind.
by: David Bullard, Senior Economist
The coronavirus pandemic caused large job losses throughout the U.S. and in other parts of the world. Wyoming’s economy was not immune to these disruptions. The Cowboy State saw its total nonfarm employment fall sharply in April and May 2020. Since that time, total employment has mostly recovered.
This article uses seasonally adjusted Current Employment Statistics (CES) data to examine Wyoming employment, sector by sector, from January 2017 to April 2022. Employment in some sectors, including retail trade, professional & business services, and leisure & hospitality, has fully recovered and now exceeds pre-pandemic levels. In other sectors, however, employment remains well below pre-pandemic levels. Natural resources & mining, wholesale trade, and government were among the key sectors that had not fully recovered as of April 2022.
As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. The figures included in this article show that the pandemic affected each sector differently in the timing and the magnitude of job losses as well as the timing and strength of recovery.
Figure 1 shows that total nonfarm employment reached a peak of 291,700 jobs in August 2019. Then, employment trended downward for several months before falling precipitously in April 2020. Between March and April 2020, 24,300 jobs (-8.4%) were lost. In May 2020, employment fell by another 1,400 jobs. From March to May, there was a net loss of 25,700 jobs. In June 2020, the state started adding jobs, and by April 2022, Wyoming had gained back 23,300 jobs, or 90.7% of the jobs that were lost.
Employment in natural resources & mining (including oil & gas) peaked at 21,400 jobs in June 2019 (see Figure 2). Employment trended slowly downward for several months, and then between March 2020 and January 2021, fell by 5,400 jobs (-27.6%). What is unusual about natural resources & mining, and different from total nonfarm, is that the job losses continued for several months. Since January 2021, employment has increased by 1,600 jobs. Despite rapidly rising energy prices, Wyoming’s rig count remains stubbornly low, reaching 18 rigs the week of June 3 (Baker Hughes, 2022).
Construction employment fell from 22,900 in March 2020 to 20,700 in April 2020, a decrease of 2,200 jobs (-9.6%; see Figure 3). During 2021, construction employment steadily rose and in April 2022, employment (23,200) was slightly higher than in March 2020.
As illustrated in Figure 4, Wyoming’s manufacturing employment hit a peak of 10,200 jobs in February 2019. From March 2020 to July 2020, employment fell by 600 jobs (-6.1%). Since that time, job growth has been mixed and employment has not fully returned to levels seen in 2019.
Wyoming’s wholesale trade sector lost 900 jobs between March 2020 and July 2020 (-11.0%; see Figure 5). Recovery has been very slow. Historically, Wyoming’s wholesale trade sector has been closely tied to the state’s energy industry (Bullard, 2007). Therefore, with very slow growth in natural resources & mining, it is not surprising to see slow growth in wholesale trade.
Figure 6 shows that while the retail trade sector experienced steep job losses, falling from 28,900 in March 2020 to 26,700 in April 2020, it rebounded very quickly, returning to its pre-pandemic level by August 2020. Retail employment grew to 30,500 jobs in April 2022. The solid job growth in retail trade highlights it as a bright spot in Wyoming’s economy.
Employment in transportation, warehousing, & utilities peaked in June 2019 at 14,900 jobs (see Figure 7). The number of jobs trended downward until hitting a low point of 13,700 jobs in July 2020. This sector includes trucking, air transportation, oil & gas pipelines, and distribution centers. The April 2022 employment level of 13,900 represents a gain of only 200 jobs from the low point reached in July 2020. Since part of Wyoming’s trucking industry supports the oil & gas sector, the low level of employment in transportation may reflect the relatively low level of oil & gas activity in the state.
The information sector includes such activities as radio and television broadcasting, telecommunications, newspaper publishing, and movie theaters. Figure 8 shows that employment was trending downward before the pandemic struck. Then, from March to April 2020, employment fell by 300 jobs (-9.4%). There is little evidence of a meaningful job recovery in this sector.
Figure 9 shows that the financial activities sector lost 400 jobs (-3.6%) from March to April 2020. Those jobs gradually returned and in April 2022, there were 11,300 jobs in financial activities. April 2022’s employment level was 100 jobs higher than March 2020.
Employment in professional & business services fell by 1,000 jobs (-5.3%) from March to April 2020 (see Figure 10). Employment recovered relatively quickly and by December 2020, all of the job losses had been reversed. This sector then continued to add jobs in 2021 and early 2022.
Figure 11 shows that education & health services employment declined steeply from March to April 2020, falling by 1,700 jobs (-5.9%). Employment rebounded rapidly for about five months, but later, it seems that employment plateaued at a level slightly lower than what prevailed before the pandemic. In April 2022, there were 28,600 jobs, which is just lower than the 28,700 jobs that existed in March 2020. Perhaps labor supply issues have been especially difficult for health care employers to overcome. Breaking this sector out into educational services and health care & social assistance reveals that from March 2020 to April 2022, educational services added 200 jobs, while health care & social assistance lost 300 jobs.
Of all the sectors, the largest job losses occurred in leisure & hospitality (see Figure 12). Between March 2020 and April 2020, employment fell from 37,200 to 25,500, a decrease of 11,700 jobs (-31.5%). Then, almost immediately, in May 2020, employment began to rebound. While the pace of job growth slowed some during late 2021, by April 2022, employment exceeded pre-pandemic levels by a sizeable margin.
The other services sector includes a wide range of employers, from auto repair shops to charitable organizations and beauty salons. Figure 13 shows that this sector lost 800 jobs (-4.9%) from March to April 2020. Several months later, employment rose by 800 jobs over a short two-month period (January and February 2022). By April 2022, other services had 300 more jobs than in March 2020.
Government employment is shown in Figure 14. This sector saw employment fall from 69,300 jobs in March 2020 to 65,200 jobs in June 2020, a decrease of 4,100 jobs (-5.9%). In April 2022, employment stood at 67,000 jobs, which represents a large decline from pre-pandemic levels. This sector includes all levels of government (federal, state, and local). It also includes public schools, public colleges, and public hospitals. From March 2020 to April 2022, the largest job losses occurred in local government, where employment fell by 1,400 jobs.
In April 2020, employment fell in every major sector of Wyoming’s economy. Some sectors saw relatively modest job losses, while others, like retail trade and leisure & hospitality, saw very large losses. The pace of job recovery has varied widely across the different sectors. Sectors where employment has exceeded pre-pandemic levels include leisure & hospitality, professional & business services, and retail trade. Job recovery has been especially slow in natural resources & mining and in related sectors, such as wholesale trade and transportation, warehousing, & utilities.
Bullard, D. (2007, April). A regression model of Wyoming employment in merchant wholesalers, durable goods. Wyoming Labor Force Trends, 44(4) Retrieved June 8, 2022 from https://doe.state.wy.us/LMI/0407/a4.htm
Baker Hughes, (2022, June). North American Rotary Rig Count retrieved June 8, 2022 from https://tinyurl.com/232w65c7
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