Wyoming’s workforce lacks police, nurses, teachers, truckers and everything else

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s workforce lacks nurses, police officers, teachers, truckers and a host of other workers.

And the general explanation for that is – they retired.

“After COVID, a lot of people just don’t get back into the workforce,” Dr. Wenlin Liu, Wyoming’s chief economist, said in an interview with Cowboy State Daily.

Liu noted that Wyoming has a disproportionate population of “baby boomers,” people between the ages of 58 and 76, compared to the rest of the nation. Wyoming in 2021 had 103,877 baby boomers, a 48% increase from 2010 and more than a full percentage point above the national average.

“As you can imagine, during COVID, after COVID, many or some of them probably retired early and…they’re just not coming back to the workforce,” Liu said.

Young workers are not rushing to replace baby boomers because in the near age group there are not enough people to fill the void.

There are 13,000 fewer Wyomingites between the ages of 45 and 54, in Gen X, than baby boomers.

Wyoming also has more students between the ages of 5 and 15 than the national average. By traditional standards, these people can’t be expected to stay long enough to work in Wyoming, Liu said, noting that young people just entering the workforce are often drawn to areas metropolitan areas outside the state.

Incoming Californians

But COVID may have created an exception to that habit, Liu said.

The pandemic’s virtual workforce trend has allowed “professionals,” or white-collar workers, to live in Wyoming while working elsewhere, prompting a migration of Californians and other workers from urban states to Rural states like Idaho and, to some extent, Wyoming. Many rural states, including Wyoming, had more people moving in than moving out from 2020 to 2021.

Wyoming’s economy still isn’t as filled with virtual work as rural East Coast states, he said, because the state’s economy is heavily dependent on oil and gas extraction. natural, where employment is still lagging about 4,000 workers from pre-COVID levels, but is bouncing back moderately.

Liu said he was very curious to see if people will continue to flock to rural areas in the coming years.

“We are interested to see, demographers, economists, if this reversal of the migration trend will continue after COVID,” he said, noting with a chuckle that it is more difficult for a worker to demand a remote work when there is no pandemic.

Declining unemployment

Wyoming’s unemployment fell to its lowest level since 2008, at 3.2%.

While that sounds like a blessing for a struggling workforce, it actually means employers have fewer eligible workers to choose from, Liu said.

People who are retired or who are not looking for a job are not included in the “unemployed” statistics.

With an increase of about 3% since 2020, the number of employed workers in Wyoming has grown “pretty seriously” while recovering from business closures and industry meltdowns from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hospitality, retail and some professional business services have recovered or exceeded pre-COVID worker numbers, Liu said.

Anti-cop “national courier”

But teachers, truckers, nurses and police officers are harder to find now than they were two years ago, industry experts say.

Byron Oedekoven, executive director of the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police, told the Cowboy State Daily that the police shortage is statewide, with some departments experiencing shortages of up to 30 percent. .

He blamed the shortage on anti-cop ‘national messaging’, the difficulty of delivering pay rises from government budgets amid this year’s historic inflation and the inability of many candidates to meet requirements to join law enforcement.

“When you consider the psychological, medical, and criminal history associated with law enforcement candidates, for whatever reason, it’s harder to find (qualified candidates),” Oedekoven said.

And police departments have not lowered goal posts to make testing more rigorous, he added.

“It’s a calling”

As for nurses and “all types of health care providers,” Eric Boley, president of the Wyoming Hospital Association, said the shortfall stems in part from the financial difficulties of hospitals, which are not being helped. by inflationary increases in workers’ wage expectations.

Medicaid and Medicare pay predetermined amounts on medical bills.

For Medicare, the federal government is “actually looking at reducing those rates a bit … so we’re potentially looking at a 2% reduction,” Boley said, adding that for Medicaid, reimbursements have been reduced every year in the past. several years but, for a change, have not been reduced this year.

Boley also cited “burnout” due to increased industry demands during COVID, and agreed with Liu that many workers who were at or near retirement age decided to quit. their jobs during the pandemic.

Like law enforcement, hospitals and other healthcare entities are under inflationary pressure to pay more because everything costs more.

This pressure is driving up medical costs, further widening the gap between how much the health care industry charges for services and how much the federal government, insurance companies, and sometimes patients are willing to pay. to pay.

“The health care institutions are doing everything they can in the state: offering huge sign-up bonuses and all kinds of incentives to try to get people to come, but we’re competing at the nationwide for the same group of people,” Boley said, noting that the healthcare worker shortage is a national phenomenon. “I hope we see people who want to become nurses and enter the health field because it is a calling in life, a great job and a way to serve others.”

“No one wants to work anymore”

Tighter federal restrictions and a general reluctance to work hard have caused a shortage of truckers, according to two Wyoming truckers who spoke to the Cowboy State Daily in June.

“People don’t want to drive trucks or don’t want to work, or a lot of them don’t like the new regulations with (the federally mandated electric logging devices),” said Kim Barr, co-owner of Rolling Hills. Trucking in Worland.

Kelly Eckhardt, of Kelly Eckhardt Transport in Lander, said trucking officials need to weigh their ability to raise wage offers amid rising diesel prices.

“‘Nobody wants to work anymore,’ that’s kind of our saying now,” Eckhardt said. “We try to keep (salaries) as high as possible, but I don’t think it will be sustainable.”

In his own interview, Liu said that although federal COVID unemployment programs have run out, people who spent less money during the pandemic and were able to save money throughout it may struggle. free time to avoid working now. But it can’t last forever, he added.

Teacher shortage

School officials and state Rep. Jerry Paxton, R-Encampment, told the Cowboy State Daily in April that the state was falling into a shortage of teachers and school personnel.

Paxton blamed the loss on COVID burnout as teachers endured tricky anti-COVID mitigations in 2020 and 2021. He also noted a loss of interest as fewer young people go to school. university to become teachers.

The topic came up again at a May 31 meeting of the Legislature Education Committee, which Paxton co-chairs, when lawmakers discussed ways to attract more educators to the state.

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Michael A. Bynum