The coal industry’s woes are bad news for Wyoming’s economy.
The past month has seen a series of layoffs in mines across the state, a fact all the more painful, given that coal jobs in Wyoming have long been considered among the most secure.
The Casper Star-Tribune recently wrote a round-up of the job cuts this month: Kiewit Corp. laid off 38 workers from its Buckskin Mine; Peabody Energy announced “a small number” of layoffs at Campbell County’s Caballo and Rawhide mines, despite having already eliminated more than 250 jobs since 2011; and workers at North Antelope Rochelle Mine are on edge after receiving a terse two-sentence letter Tuesday telling them not to report for work this week.
These decisions have reverberated across the state. Wyoming is not only the largest coal-producing state in the nation; with fewer than 600,000 residents, it also has the smallest population.
A study prepared last year for the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority called coal “a cornerstone of the modern Wyoming economy since the 1970s,” noting it “has served as Wyoming’s most stable source of tax revenues over the past four decades.”
But since 2008, Wyoming’s coal production dropped by 17 percent, the study notes, and counterproductive policies like the Clean Power Plan will cause even more damage.
Already, one analyst projected Wyoming’s coal production would fall below 700 million tons in 2016—far less than the 900 million tons mined last year.
Combined with layoffs in oil and gas, Wyoming’s economy is already feeling the pain. The Casper Star-Tribune reports:
“In my opinion, the state’s overall labor market is not as bad as the Great Recession yet,” said Wenlin Liu, a state economist.
Year-over-year drops in total employment have been around 3 percent, Liu noted. By comparison, total employment fell by 5 percent between late 2009 and 2010, when the great recession reached its peak in Wyoming.
Unemployment is now around 5 percent, where it once stood around 7 percent in the Great Recession.
But there is no doubt about the impact of the slowdown on Wyoming’s broader economy, even if no official measure for defining a recession at the state level exists, Liu said.
Yet by national standards — two consecutive months of real GDP decline — the Cowboy State is already in recession. Wyoming’s GDP declined in the first and second quarters of 2015.
“The fact is that the economic condition nowadays in the state is worse than the first half of 2015,” Liu said.
So it must have chapped Wyomingite’s wind-blown faces when, earlier this month, Hillary Clinton said with a smile: “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.”
As the Equality State knows all too well, that’s nothing to boast about.