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Wyoming jobless rate continues to drop

Wyoming jobless rate continues to drop

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Wyoming jobless rate continues to drop
By Tom Mast - Casper Star-Tribune staff writer

Wyoming’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell to 5.8 percent in July, its lowest level since April 2009.

“Things continue to improve little by little,” said David Bullard, senior economist with the state Department of Workforce Services, Research and Planning section. “And that’s a trend we’ve been on really throughout 2010 and 2011.”

The unemployment rate has remained flat or declined for 19 consecutive months. It peaked at 7.7 percent in December 2009.

The state’s July unemployment rate was seventh lowest in the nation. The U.S. rate stood at 9.1 percent.

The jobless rate was less in every county when compared to a year earlier, which Bullard said suggests broad improvement in the state’s economy.

According to estimates by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, 10 of 13 economic sectors in Wyoming added jobs, while only two — retail trade and “other services” — declined. The information sector was flat.

Ernie Goss, director of the Denver-based Goss Institute for Economic Research, noted in an assessment earlier this month that Wyoming’s unemployment rate had declined by 0.3 percent over the past three months.

“Based on recent surveys, I expect continued improvements in the state’s labor market, with upturns in the rate of hiring and a slight improvement in the state unemployment rate,” he said.

Wenlin Liu, senior economist with the state Economic Analysis Division, pointed to the mining sector as pivotal in the improving jobs picture.

He noted that states such as North Dakota, Oklahoma and Utah also have benefited from robust mining activity.

Liu said that aside from education and health services, “The mining industry in the U.S. is the only other sector with employment surpassing the pre-recession level.”

Houston-based drilling product provider Baker Hughes Inc. reported last week that 1,066 rigs were exploring for oil, 900 for natural gas and eight were listed as miscellaneous, for a total of 1,974.

A year ago, the U.S. rig count stood at 1,651. Wyoming added six rigs for the week.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated Wyoming employment in mining and logging, including oil and gas, increased from 25,600 to 28,400 over the year. The figures are not seasonally adjusted.

Despite the gains, Liu said he doesn’t expect the downward trend in the state’s unemployment rate to continue for the rest of the year unless the national economy picks up steam.

He noted that despite improvements in the construction industry, job growth in the industry remains feeble.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that construction added only 400 jobs over the year. And with the construction season winding down soon, a big turnaround doesn’t appear likely in the short term.

Total nonfarm employment in Wyoming reached 295,400 in July, an increase of 7,100 from a year earlier. The 2.5 percent rate of job growth ranked fourth-fastest in the nation.

The U.S. added 117,000 nonfarm payroll jobs in July. Jobs gains occurred in health care, retail trade and manufacturing and mining, while government employment continued to decline.