Wyoming's population drops for a third year

By Ramsey Scott

Wyoming Tribune Eagle

Via Wyoming News Exchange

CHEYENNE — For the third straight year, Wyoming saw the number of people living in the state decrease. But the decline in the number of people calling the Equality State home slowed significantly in comparison to the previous two years.

The U.S Census Bureau's statistics showed from July 2017 to July 2018, Wyoming's population decreased by 1,197, or 0.2 percent of the state's overall 577,737 citizens. While that drop continues the three-year trend of the state losing population, the drop was much less than a year previous. Between 2016 and 2017, Wyoming saw its population drop by about 7,900 people, and between 2015 and 2016, the state's population declined by 5,356.

The slowing population decline in Wyoming was due in large part to fewer people migrating out of the state than in previous years, said Wenlin Liu, the chief economist for Wyoming state government. But while fewer people moved out of the state, there still was a net loss in population. 

"This is pretty much what I have expected because over the year, in almost every month in 2018, statistics show Wyoming's labor force continues to decline," Liu said. "Many young people continue to move out of Wyoming in 2018 as the U.S. economy has continued to be robust. In particular, our neighboring states such as Colorado, Utah and Idaho have seen the fastest employment growth between (2017 to 2018)." 

Population growth is based on two factors - the rate of births compared to deaths, and the number of people moving into a state compared to the number moving away, Liu said. Without people moving into or out of the state, Wyoming would have seen its population between 2017 and 2018 grow by 1,893 due to the birth rate. 

While Wyoming continues to see more people leave the state than move into it, the number of people leaving dropped by more than 50 percent from last year. Between 2017 and 2018, Wyoming saw 3,100 more people leave than move in, compared to almost 8,000 between 2016 and 2017. 

That decrease in out migration was due in large part to the improved economy in Wyoming, Liu said. As the oil industry has expanded in the state, so have the number of jobs available. That expansion coupled with more and more baby boomers retiring means the job market is keeping people in Wyoming.

"Our economy continued to recover. However, the pace of improvement is relatively moderate. It still did not prevent more people moving out," Liu said. "Millennials do prefer to live in a big metro area (like Denver). And it happens Wyoming is a rural state and we still have the least population in the nation."

Several factors could help start to push Wyoming's population total in a positive direction, Liu said. If the national economy starts to decline and there are fewer jobs available out of state, Wyoming could see more and more young people decide to stay closer to home to look for work. And rising real estate prices in the Denver metro area could also make a move out of Wyoming less appealing for young people looking to make a start. 

Wyoming was one of nine states to see its population decline between 2017 and 2018, along with New York, Hawaii, Alaska and Illinois. Idaho and Nevada were two of the states that saw the most population growth in that timeframe.