A new publication from the Wyoming Open Spaces Initiative at the University of Wyoming describes recent patterns of population growth and change in Wyoming.
The latest in a series of bulletins that have tracked Wyoming’s population since 1990, “Population Growth in Wyoming: 2010-2015,” led by UW Professor David “Tex” Taylor uses U.S. Census Bureau population estimates to explain changes in population growth patterns at the municipal, county and state levels in Wyoming from 2010-15.
Since 2010, Wyoming has experienced moderate population growth, increasing by 3.9 percent from 2010 through 2015. That rate is slightly above the national average (3.7 percent), but well below that of regional states including North Dakota (12.2 percent), Colorado (7.9 percent), Utah (7.8 percent), Idaho (5.2 percent) and South Dakota (5.1 percent). Wyoming’s population growth rate from 2010-15 was comparable to the rates of Montana (4.2 percent) and Nebraska (3.5 percent).
Between 2010 and 2015, 20 percent of Wyoming’s population growth occurred in rural areas of the state. Though rural population growth for this time period has slowed compared to 2000-2010, when one-third of growth occurred in rural areas, rural residential development has important implications for Wyoming, including loss of open space and increasing the cost of community services to local governments. In 2015, slightly more than 30 percent of Wyoming residents lived in rural areas of the state.
During 2010-15, the fastest-growing counties included both energy-producing counties such as Natrona (8.9 percent) and Campbell (6.7 percent), and mostly non-energy-producing counties such as Teton (8.3 percent) and Albany (4.5 percent). At the other end of the spectrum, counties that experienced a net loss in population included those with older populations such as Hot Springs (-1.4 percent) and Washakie (-2.5 percent) along with energy-producing counties such as Sublette (-3.6 percent), Carbon (-1.8 percent) and Uinta (-1.3 percent).
Sublette County, which recorded the largest population growth rate in Wyoming between 2000 and 2010 (+73 percent), experienced the largest negative population growth rate between 2010 and 2015 due to a boom in natural gas production (2000-08) followed by a decrease in development caused by a decline in natural gas prices (2008-2015).
“Understanding changing population patterns is a key step in understanding growth issues in Wyoming,” says report author Taylor of UW’s Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics. “Our analysis shows that Wyoming’s population growth is happening in both rural and urban areas of the state, with much of the change being driven by energy markets.”
From 2015 to 2017, Wyoming’s total population declined by nearly 6,800 residents, or 1.2 percent. The annual decrease in 2017 (-5,595) was the largest decline for the state in 25 years, due to people leaving the state.
Historically, Wyoming has experienced substantial fluctuations in its population growth. After increasing by more than 50 percent during the “energy boom” from 1970-1983, Wyoming’s population declined by more than 10 percent during the “energy bust” of 1983-1990. Since then, Wyoming’s population has continued to fluctuate, although at a more moderate rate. Wyoming’s population increased by nearly nine percent between 1990-2000 and by more than 14 percent between 2000-2010.