Regional Covered Employment and Wage Data:

An Economic Indicator for Wyoming

by: Nancy Brennan

To best judge the state of Wyoming's economy, it is helpful to compare it with the economies of neighboring states as well as that of the nation as a whole. Of particular importance in economic comparison are nominal wages (the actual wages earned by workers) and "real" wages (actual wages adjusted each year for the annual rate of inflation, which is indexed to 1982 - 84) for Wyoming, the United States and Wyoming's geographic neighbors: Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Utah. This particular information is provided by the ES-202 (Covered Employment and Wages) program. While there are many different types of information which can be examined to determine the health of a state's economy, here we will examine the importance of ES-202 data which are organized by industry and includes covered employees. Covered employees are those who fall under Unemployment Insurance (UI). Nominal and real wages of covered workers are also examined here.

Quarterly covered employment and wage data (ES-202 data) in Wyoming are compiled by the Department of Employment, Employment Resources Division, Research & Planning. This data accounts for 85 percent of Wyoming workers. Thus ES-202 data can be used as a strong indicator of the condition of Wyoming's economy. Furthermore, all states must submit their quarterly employment and wage data to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. This allows timely evaluation and economic analysis in comparing Wyoming with its surrounding states and the nation.

Where We Stand

Wage levels vary nationwide by industrial division, as well as regionally. In terms of 1994 nominal average annual wages, Wyoming ranked third among its eight geographic neighboring states with $22,071 (refer to Table 1). Colorado was first with $26,164 and South Dakota was last (eighth) with $19,255. Nationally, including all states and the District of Columbia, Colorado ranked 16th in terms of nominal average annual wages in 1994, Utah was 37th ($22,811), Wyoming was 44th, Idaho was 45th ($21,938), Nebraska was 46th ($21,500), Montana was 49th ($20,219), North Dakota was 50th ($19,893) and South Dakota was 51st. Of the eight states in the region, seven were in the bottom third of all states in terms of nominal average annual wages in 1994, including Wyoming; only Colorado placed in the top third.

How Quickly We Grow

The rate of growth (percent change) in the nominal average annual wage in Wyoming was also low compared to that of its neighbors (refer to Table 2). Wyoming's growth in the nominal average annual wage from 1993 - 94 ranked seventh in the eight-state region (1.5%), ahead of only Montana (1.4%). And while covered employment itself grew in Wyoming from 1993 - 94 (3.4%), in comparison with the neighboring states, this growth rate was also quite low. In fact, Wyoming was tied with Nebraska in last place (eighth) among all states in the region. However, Wyoming's covered employment grew faster than that of the United States as a whole (2.9%).

The Long Haul

Wyoming is behind its neighbors in nominal average wages and earnings growth for the period 1993 - 94. Since the peak of the "boom" (1982), nominal earnings have increased but failed to keep pace with the rate of inflation. Wyoming's nominal average weekly wage has increased from $346 in 1982 to $424 in 1994 (refer to Table 3). Roughly half of this increase has occurred in the 1990's alone. In addition, Wyoming has enjoyed nominal average weekly wage increases each year since 1983 in varying degrees (refer to Table 4). The single exception occurred with the 1987 economic "crash". However, when the nominal average weekly wage is adjusted for inflation, the Wyoming worker's "real" wages have been steadily decreasing from $359 in 1982 to $286 in 1994! The yearly percent changes in real wages have ranged from -3.8 percent (1982 - 83 and 1988 - 89) to a "high" of 0.0 percent (1991 - 92); in 1993 - 94, the real average weekly wage decreased 1.1 percent. So despite the fact that Wyoming's nominal wages are on the increase, Wyoming workers are still losing ground!

Among particular industries, Mining has the highest nominal average annual wage ($43,653 in the nation and $42,125 in Wyoming). In fact, no industry nominal average annual wage decreased from 1993 - 94 in the nation or Wyoming; Nebraska and South Dakota were also free from any industry decreases in nominal wages (refer to Table 1). On the other hand, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota and Utah have all demonstrated industry nominal average annual wage losses from 1993 - 94. Nominal wages have traditionally been the highest in Mining and Federal Government, in the nation and among the states surrounding Wyoming (except Nebraska) since 1982. Lowest nominal wages are generally found in the industries of Services, Agriculture (includes Forestry and Fisheries), Retail Trade and Local Government, in that order.

Industries That Dominate

Generally, the largest industry by covered employment in 1994 was Services, which was followed by Retail Trade. This was the case in the nation and among all of Wyoming's neighbors. However, in Wyoming, Retail Trade slightly edged out Services for the top industry (42,970 workers and 42,433 workers, respectively). The third and fourth largest industries were Manufacturing and Local Government, in that order in the nation and among Wyoming's neighbors except for Montana and North Dakota, where Local Government was third and Manufacturing was fourth. In Wyoming, Local Government was the third largest employer in 1994 and Mining was fourth, making Wyoming unique in the region. Nationally, the smallest industries are Mining, Agriculture and Federal Government, in that order. There is similar structuring of the low end of industry employment in the states surrounding Wyoming. Agriculture, Wholesale Trade and Federal Government are the least represented employers in Wyoming.

Wyoming's industrial employment structure has changed substantially since the "boom" of 1982 and the "bust" of 1987. Mining still plays a lead role in Wyoming's economy, but in 1982 it was the second largest industrial employer and, as was previously mentioned, it has dropped to fourth position, as of 1994. In fact, Mining employed 16.4 percent of covered workers in 1982 and employed only 8.5 percent in 1994. Wyoming's economic growth has been slow since 1987; until 1992, Wyoming's employment did not surpass that of 1986!

However, there are areas of employment growth in Wyoming: Construction (11.8% growth), Services (5.1% growth) and Wholesale Trade (5.0% growth) showed the highest industrial employment increases from 1993 - 94 (refer to Table 2). Nationwide, as well as in all of the neighboring states, Construction was the fastest growing industry from 1993 - 94. The only exception occurred in South Dakota, where Construction was the third fastest growing industry, behind Transportation & Public Utilities (TPU) and Agriculture.

After examining the quality of employment in terms of the real dollar value of today's wages, it is apparent that wages in Wyoming have not kept up with the rate of inflation. Indeed, from 1993 - 94 only Idaho, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota of all the states in the region showed increases in real wages, and these were only slight. Nationwide and in Colorado, Montana, Utah and Wyoming real wages have declined. Job seekers, employees and business organizations need to consider the practical implications of this loss in real wages.

It is not clear why wage levels fall or rise at particular rates because other factors such as the supply and quality of labor, and technological innovation, are changing at the same time. It is also unclear whether or not there is a well-defined wage at which workers will no longer seek employment because of countervailing norms and demographic factors. What we have determined is that the problem of low wages faced by Wyoming is peculiar only in some regards and that the answers are something held in common by the states of the region.

Nancy Brennan is an Economist specializing in the ES-202 program (Covered Employment and Wages) with Research & Planning.

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