In the latest indicator of Wyoming’s tough economic straits, the state ranked dead last for personal income growth over the last fiscal year, according to data from the Pew Charitable Trusts.
Wyoming residents’ personal income had an average growth rate of negative 2.3 percent during the fiscal year that ended in July. In other words, the average Wyomingite made less money in the last year than he or she did the year before. Meanwhile, the nation’s average personal income grew 1.8 percent. Wyoming’s rate was by far the worst amongst the 50 states; the next worst state, North Dakota, had a negative rate of 0.9 percent.
Personal income measures the combined income a state’s residents receive from wages, job benefits, personal business income, bank dividends or interest, and any rent collected. It also incorporates government benefits like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Personal income measurements don’t include capital gains and losses.
The average incomes of individuals in two of Wyoming’s neighboring states fared much better. Both Utah and Idaho joined Washington state in seeing personal income growth of 2.9 percent last fiscal year, the highest in the nation.
Eight states saw negative income growth — all but Vermont were energy producers. States with economies based on fossil-fuel production took hits from low oil, gas, and coal prices. Wyoming’s drop was particularly steep because the state produces and is dependent upon all three fossil fuels, UW economist Rob Godby said.
Pew’s data wasn’t surprising, he said, and reflected how an overall energy slump combined with a coal bust delivered a sharp fiscal blow to Wyoming in 2016. Those markets have started to stabilize, which is good for the state, Godby said, but he does not anticipate them returning to pre-2016 levels.
According to the Pew data, Wyoming has seen net personal income growth increase by 1.6 percent since the 2008 recession, which puts the state in the middle of the pack nationally in growth rates over that period.
The direct impact of oil, gas, and coal job and wage losses on personal incomes in Wyoming were compounded by the state’s fiscal dependence on energy, Godby said. The state and federal government are Wyoming’s biggest employers, he said, and austerity measures at the state level hurt that sector as well.
Some state services that can affect people’s personal income also saw budget reductions, again compounding the problem, Godby said.
In Wyoming politics today there’s much discussion about trying to diversify both the state’s economy and tax base, but a clear path or paths forward has yet to emerge.
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“When energy has a sneeze we get a severe cold or pneumonia,” Godby said. “If you live by the sword you die by the sword, and we have a really big sword.”
Click here to read about the Pew Charitable Trusts study and methodology.