© Copyright 2000 by the Wyoming Department of Employment, Research & Planning

A Decade of Employment Growth in Wyoming: 1988-1998
by: David Bullard , Economist

"The structure of Wyoming's economy has changed dramatically in the past ten years. From 1988 to 1998, total covered employment has increased by 39,708 jobs or 21.9 percent."

Employment has grown steadily in Wyoming during the past ten years. During much of the decade, wage growth did not keep pace with inflation, leaving Wyoming workers with decreasing purchasing power. This article examines the changes in employment by industry and average industry wages in order to explain this phenomenon.

The structure of Wyoming’s economy has changed dramatically in the past ten years. From 1988 to 1998, total covered employment increased by 39,708 jobs or 21.9 percent.1 However, this growth was not consistent across industries. Employment in some industries grew quickly, while others grew only modestly or declined. Table 1 shows that the Services industry created the largest number of new jobs (16,799). It was followed by Retail Trade (9,670), Construction (5,751) and Local Government (4,266). Together, these four industries account for over ninety percent of the new jobs during the ten-year period.2

What are wages like in these high-growth industries? Table 2 shows that in 1998, of the four high-growth industries, only Construction paid wages above the statewide annual average wage of $24,745. However, over the ten-year period, wage growth within Construction was slower than inflation. In real terms,3 annual average wages in Construction decreased by 8.5 percent (see Table 3). Local Government’s real annual average wage of $26,156 in 1988 was above the statewide average of $25,650, but by 1998 it had fallen 11.0 percent (the largest drop of any industry). Retail Trade and Services experienced real wage growth from 1988 to 1998, but still paid below-average wages ($13,789 and $19,411, respectively).

Not all industries grew. Mining, Transportation, Communications & Public Utilities (TCPU) and Federal Government each experienced declining employment (-1,252, -639 and -527, respectively). Table 2 shows that all three of these industries pay higher than the average wage of $24,745. In fact, Mining, Federal Government and TCPU are the three industries which pay the highest wages.

With a higher proportion of Wyoming’s employment in lower-wage industries and a lower proportion in high-wage industries, it is not surprising that the statewide average wage has not kept pace with inflation. From 1988 to 1998, the average annual wage increased by $6,129 or 32.9 percent. However, the cost of living as measured by the Consumer Price Index for all Urban consumers (CPI-U) grew by 37.8 percent, leaving Wyoming workers with smaller real wages.4

Figure 1 illustrates this decline in real wages. Wages are shown in constant 1998 dollars. Real wages fell from 1988 to 1996, and then increased during 1997 and 1998. What has caused the turnaround in real wage growth? Figure 2 shows both inflation and wage growth (the two series used to produce Figure 1). Inflation has trended downward since 1990, while wages grew quickly in 1997 and 1998. Strong wage growth in Wyoming during 1997 and 1998 may be related to a tight national labor market which has forced many employers to raise wages.

In summary, the decline in real wages over the ten-year period appears to be related to changes in the industrial structure of Wyoming’s economy. There was a shift away from high-paying jobs in Mining, TCPU and Federal Government to lower-paying jobs in Services, Retail Trade and Local Government. Since 1996, however, there has been a turnaround in real wages, with healthy gains in 1997 and 1998.

1 Covered employment is the total number of jobs covered by unemployment insurance (UI) and Unemployment Compensation for Federal Employees (UCFE). This accounts for about 90 percent of the jobs in the state.

2 The reader can conduct similar analysis at the county level using the recently released Wyoming 1998 Annual Covered Employment and Wages publication.

3 Wages can be stated in either nominal or real terms. Nominal wages are stated in current dollars, that is, 1982 wages are stated in 1982 dollars. Real wages are adjusted for inflation and stated in constant dollars. In Table 3, wages are adjusted to 1998 dollars using the Consumer Price Index for all Urban Consumers (CPI-U). Adjusting for inflation allows us to compare the purchasing power of wages from different time periods.

4 For more information, see the Consumer Price Index, including historical data from 1913 to the present.

Table of Contents | Labor Market Information | Employment Resources | Send Us Mail

These pages designed by Gayle C. Edlin.
Last modified on by Valerie A. Davis.