Wyoming faces labor challenges amidst a nationwide shortage, but with a focus on technology and efficiency, the state remains hopeful for a prosperous future.
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A Shift in the U.S. Labor Landscape
Cheyenne — Recent years have seen significant changes in the labor market, resulting in a widespread nationwide labor shortage.
Despite every unemployed American finding work, there would still be an outstanding 3.5 million job vacancies.
This April, the national unemployment rate touched 3.4%, a figure not seen since 1953.
The abundance of jobs is not due to a lack of willing workers but rather a surplus of available positions.
Wyoming’s Labor Woes
Recent figures from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce pinpoint Wyoming as one of the hardest-hit states in this labor predicament.
Industries from plumbing, electrical, carpentry, health care, and accounting to major distribution hubs like Walmart are all grappling with these challenges.
When we delve into the specifics, Wyoming’s employment scenario remains similar to pre-pandemic levels, placing it at the second-lowest nationally.
The state has also observed a 3.1% quit rate, ranking third-highest, with its workforce shrinking by 2.1% from 2019 to 2022.
Alarmingly, for every 100 jobs, only 60 workers are available, making Wyoming the 15th lowest in the U.S.
A Silver Lining for Wyoming
However, there are bright spots.
In comparison to pre-pandemic times, Wyoming’s unemployment rate is the third-best nationwide.
Moreover, the state’s unemployment rate is better than over half of the states in the country.
Despite having the smallest labor force, Wyoming impressively stands at 15th in labor participation rate.
A local expert, Steenbergen, is optimistic about Cheyenne’s resilience amidst these challenges.
He states: “Even in this national swarm of change, I think we will be just fine.”
For Steenbergen, the solution lies in maximizing efficiency within the current and forthcoming labor force rather than merely increasing numbers.
Embracing Technology and Education
The chamber collaborates with schools and universities to tackle this labor issue.
High-tech training in trade skills at institutions like LCCC ensures more work with fewer hands.
Cheyenne’s role as a governmental hub also draws a well-educated, skilled workforce.
While Wyoming boasts a high school diploma rate surpassing the national average, less than one-third of its residents hold a bachelor’s degree, lagging the national average by over 5%.
Wyoming faces demographic challenges with its title as the least populated state and a slow growth rate.
Between 2015 and 2021, the state’s fertility rate plummeted by 82%. Coupled with a graying workforce, expecting a labor surge in Wyoming is unrealistic.
In 2022, nearly 20% of workers in the state were over 55 years old.
Interestingly, Steenbergen identifies rising national interest rates, now at their highest since 2001, as the most pressing short-term challenge.
These rates impede companies’ capacities to compensate workers competitively.
Steenbergen envisions a future where technology substitutes humans, stating: “If we can have technology replace human beings, we can grow our economy without significantly increasing the number of people.”
The Backbone of Federal Support
The local economy gains considerable support from federal funds.
About 30% of Wyoming’s economy is annually bolstered by national support mechanisms such as the F.E. Warren Air Force Base and the Bureau of Land Management.
For Steenbergen, success is gauged by the enhanced quality of life and living standards for Wyoming’s citizens rather than mere population counts.
“I think the real measurement is that our people have a better quality of life and can live a higher standard of living,” he concluded.