Wyoming grows older; energy downturn partly to blame
CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — The downturn in Wyoming’s energy industry is partly to blame for the state’s population becoming a little grayer last year, a state economist said.
U.S. Census Bureau statistics show the number of people age 65 and over in the state grew from 88,339 to 91,607 between July 2016 and July 2017 and the median age of state residents rose the fastest in the country to 37.7 years.
Aging baby boomers is the main reason for the increase, but the loss of some 8,300 residents between July 2016 and July 2017 also played a major role, said Wenlin Liu, chief economist with the Wyoming Economic Analysis Division. Many of those who left had lost jobs in the state’s oil, natural gas and coal mining sectors.
“As a result of the reduction in employment, many younger workers left the State,” Liu said. “Movers tend to be much younger than non-movers, and this is particularly true for Wyoming.”
Platte County had the state’s greatest percentage of older residents, with 25.1 percent of its population age 65 and older in 2017. It was followed by Hot Springs with 25.5 percent, Johnson with 23.4 percent, Park with 22.2 percent and Niobrara with 21.9 percent. All five counties have median ages higher than 44.
By contrast, Albany County was the state’s youngest with a median age of 27.6 in 2017. Campbell County was the second youngest at 34.4, followed by Sweetwater at 35.4 and Uinta at 35.9.
The median age in the state’s two largest counties, Laramie and Natrona, was 37.
Campbell and Uinta counties had the highest percentage of preschoolers — younger than 5 — at 7.6 percent each. Campbell County also had the lowest percentage of population age 65 or older, at 9.3 percent.
Despite the state’s overall population aging, Wyoming was still ranked as the 16th youngest state in the nation in 2017.
However, Liu warned that the aging trend in the state was upward.
Since 2010, Wyoming’s total population increased 2.8 percent, but residents younger than 18 increased only 0.8 percent and pre-school children declined 7.8 percent.
Wyoming’s population age 65 and older increased from 70,090 in 2010 to 91,607 in 2017, or 30.7 percent. The elderly population in Wyoming is projected to reach 139,500, or over one-fifth of the state’s total residents by 2030 when all baby boomers will be in this age group.
“Wyoming does not have enough resident workers to replace retiring boomers,” Liu said. “With currently low unemployment rate, and continued trend of millennials moving to bigger metro areas, the state may possibly face a serious labor force shortage and faster population aging in the near future.”