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Copyright 1998 by the Wyoming Department of Employment, Research & Planning

Regional Covered Employment and Wage Data: An Economic Indicator for Wyoming

by: Nancy Brennan and Gayle C. Edlin

Employment and wage data can reveal a great deal about economic conditions in a geographic area. When such information is examined in the context of surrounding areas, the economic state becomes even more clear. This article will focus on Wyoming’s economy by examining information about covered employment(1) and average annual wages (nominal and real) of the U. S. as a whole, Wyoming and seven of Wyoming’s neighboring states. A brief examination of metropolitan areas is also included.

Nominal Wages

According to data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) of the U. S. Department of Labor, the nominal average annual pay of all U. S. workers covered by State and Federal UI programs was $28,945 in 1996 (see Table 1). The District of Columbia led the nation in average annual pay in 1996 with $44,458; the District of Columbia has reported the highest average annual pay since 1987. New York had the next highest pay ($36,831) with Connecticut ($36,579), New Jersey ($35,928) and Massachusetts ($33,940) rounding out the top five.

Colorado ($28,520) was the only state in the Mountain-Plains region which placed in the top third of all states in terms of 1996 nominal average annual wages, and even it was below the national average. The other seven states in this region--Utah ($24,572), Idaho ($23,353), Nebraska ($23,291), Wyoming ($22,870), North Dakota ($21,242), Montana ($21,146) and South Dakota ($20,724)--all placed in the bottom third of all states. In comparison to the states making up the Mountain-Plains region, Wyoming ranked fifth in 1996 nominal average annual wages (see Table 2). Colorado was first, and South Dakota was last (eighth). The Mountain-Plains states have consistently posted the lowest nominal average annual wages every year since 1988. Although some of the individual rankings have shifted slightly, South Dakota has been at the bottom since 1977.

The nominal average annual pay of all U. S. covered workers increased 3.9 percent from 1995 to 1996 (see Table 1). Minnesota and Delaware led the nation with 5.5 percent increases in nominal average annual pay from 1995-96, with New York (5.4%), Colorado (5.2%) and Washington (5.2%) following closely behind. Nationally, including all states and the District of Columbia, Colorado was the only Mountain-Plains state to place in the top third of all states in terms of 1995-96 percent growth in nominal average annual pay. However, a total of 20 states and the District of Columbia had nominal average annual pay increases of 4.0 percent or higher from 1995-96, compared with only 11 states from 1994-95.

Four of the states in the Mountain-Plains region--Nebraska (4.0% growth), South Dakota (4.0%), Utah (4.0%) and North Dakota (3.7%)--placed in the middle third of all states in terms of 1995-96 percent changes in nominal average annual pay. Three of the eight states in the region--Montana (3.1%), Idaho (2.3%) and Wyoming (2.3%)--were left in the bottom third. Alaska had the dubious honor of becoming the first state in eight years to report a decline in nominal average annual pay (-0.7%). Still, a total of only eight states had percentage growth rates of less than 3.0 percent from 1995-96, versus twelve states from 1994-95. For information about how selected metropolitan areas fared, please refer to the associated article.

Real Wages

It has already been noted that Wyoming is behind its neighbors in nominal average wages and earnings growth for the 1995-96 time period. While nominal earnings have increased since the peak of the "Boom" in 1982, they have clearly failed to keep pace with the rate of inflation: Wyoming workers’ "real" annual average wages have been steadily decreasing(2) from $18,668 in 1982 to $14,576 in 1996!

Colorado has the highest 1996 real annual average pay among the Mountain-Plains states by far ($18,177), with Utah, its closest contender, over $2,500 behind ($15,661). Wyoming falls into the middle range of the states in the region ($14,576), and is followed by North Dakota ($13,539), Montana ($13,476) and South Dakota ($13,208). Most of the Mountain-Plains states saw at least slight increases in real annual average pay from 1995-96; only Wyoming (-0.6%) and Idaho (-0.7%) saw declines (see Table 3).


While covered employment itself grew in Wyoming from 1995-96 (0.7%), in comparison with other states in the Mountain-Plains region, this growth rate was extremely low (see Table 3). Utah had the highest growth rate in the region (5.4%), well above the average for the U. S. (2.2%). On the other hand, Wyoming’s total covered employment growth was the lowest among all states in the region. In fact, Wyoming had the lowest overall employment growth rate of all states(3)!

The greatest proportion of covered employment in 1996 was found in the Services industry, followed by Retail Trade. This was the case in the nation as a whole and among all of the Mountain-Plains states, including Wyoming. The third and fourth largest industries were Manufacturing and Local Government, respectively, in the U. S. and among Wyoming’s neighbors except for Montana and North Dakota, where the order was reversed. In Wyoming, Local Government was the third largest employer in 1996 and Mining was fourth (down from second in 1982, when it employed 16.4% of covered workers), making Wyoming notable in the region. Nationally, and among the Mountain-Plains states except Wyoming, Mining, Agriculture and Federal Government are the smallest industries, in that order. Agriculture, Federal Government and Wholesale Trade employ the fewest workers in Wyoming.

There were areas of employment growth for 1995-96 in Wyoming: Manufacturing (11.0%), Agriculture (3.6%) and Services (2.2%) showed the highest percent changes in industrial employment from 1995-96 (see Table 3). However, the growth in Manufacturing is deceptive, since it was due to the reclassification of employment from another industry to Manufacturing, and was therefore not a true increase in employment. Nationwide, and among most of the Mountain-Plains states, Construction was the fastest growing industry from 1995-96. Exceptions occurred in Idaho, South Dakota and Wyoming.

The data shows Wyoming’s economy appears to be stagnant at best, and declining at worst. Nominal wages have increased, but are not keeping pace with those in the other Mountain-Plains states, or with the nation as a whole. Real wages continue to decline, while the U. S. and most of the other neighboring states have seen at least small increases. Meanwhile, Wyoming’s employment is not keeping pace by any means of comparison. In conclusion, Wyoming’s economy appears sluggish for the second year in a row.

Nancy Brennan is an Economist and specializes in ES-202 Covered Employment and Wages with Research & Planning.

Gayle C. Edlin is a Senior Statistician and Editor of Wyoming Labor Force Trends.

1 Covered employees are those who fall under Unemployment Insurance (UI) and Unemployment Compensation for Federal Employees (UCFE) programs. This information is compiled in Wyoming by the Department of Employment, Employment Resources Division, Research and Planning. Quarterly data appears in Wyoming Labor Force Trends on a regular basis, and includes approximately 88 percent of Wyoming employees.

2 Please refer to Table 4 of the article "Regional Covered Employment and Wage Data: An Economic Indicator for Wyoming" in the April 1996 issue of Wyoming Labor Force Trends.

3 Please refer to 1996 Wyoming Covered Employment and Wages and the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Employment and Wages Annual Averages, 1996, Bulletin 2494.

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Last modified on November 28, 2000 by Valerie A. Davis.