Wyoming brain drain, youth exodus slowed during pandemic


Three years ago, Millennials became the largest living adult population in the United States, but not in Wyoming, where a steady stream of young people have migrated out of the state for years.

A recent report from the Department of Workforce Services noted a 6% decrease in Wyoming’s Millennial population between 2014 and 2020. This comes despite a slowdown in the youth exodus in 2019-2020 and anecdotal evidence that less. millennials left during the pandemic.

“It could be that with the COVID pandemic, there won’t be as many reasons to travel to another state to find work as it affects everyone, not just us,” said Michael Moore, author of the report.

This was not the only impact of the pandemic on Wyoming’s demographics.

Wyoming’s overall population increased slightly between 2020 and 2021 according to the latest Economic Analysis Division release. The authors noted that “the majority of the increase in the state’s population came from people settling in the state.” Amy Bittner, the division’s senior economist, said “COVID-19 may have caused more people to move to Wyoming than to leave the state.”

Moore’s Department has heard anecdotes of young workers leaving larger metropolitan areas and moving to more rural areas like Wyoming, where they can work remotely, in what has been dubbed the Zoom boom. Some 22% of Americans have moved because of COVID-19, according to a Pew Research study. The nationwide economic downturn may also have made the prospect of moving to a city with little support less appealing. Pew also found that young adults, particularly affected by job losses and university closings, were moving at a higher pace.

Climbers Grace Templeton, Ty Vineyard and Paul Kang explore the routes on Squaretop Boulder near Lander. The great outdoors in Wyoming could attract some young people seeking to flee cities amid the pandemic. (Tucker Finerty / tuckerfinerty.com)

Despite the changes linked to the pandemic, experts say that to truly address the problem of the youth exodus and brain drain from Wyoming, more job opportunities need to be created, infrastructure improved, and cultural changes. must take place.

A decades-long problem

The slowing down of the millennial exodus linked to the pandemic surprised some.

“It’s funny because it doesn’t fit the narrative,” said Matt Henry, assistant professor at Honors College at the University of Wyoming. Henry helped organize the “Imagining Wyoming’s Future: A Youth Vision for 2030” competition and spent a lot of time thinking about why young people are leaving. Many of her students, many of whom are interested in working in the nonprofit sector or other civic engagement professions, have told her they are leaving Wyoming because they can’t find opportunities after they finish. graduation in the state, he said.

The young people also told WyoFile that they found it difficult to envision a future in Wyoming as there were few job opportunities outside of the oil and gas industry.

The Department of Workforce Services has been tracking young Wyoming residents after graduating from high school for decades. His latest study, published this fall, followed 18-year-olds over a decade.

“Basically the report says the same thing as the 2012 one, that 10 years later we lose 50 to 60% of our young people in any given year,” said Tony Glover, division manager. Workforce Services research and planning.

Although not all high school students could be tracked 10 years later, the department found that about 12% worked in Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Alaska, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas. Colorado and Utah have some of the highest proportions of millennials in the country, with populations representing 24.5% and 23.4% of the generation, respectively.

Wyoming has long faced a large out-migration of young people. (Illustration by Eda Uzunlar)

The neighboring western mountain states have also seen astronomical population growth in general – Idaho, Utah, Montana and Arizona have had the highest annual growth rates in the country, making Wyoming’s addition of 1,536 residents last year seems small in comparison.

In Moore’s analysis of millennials leaving the Wyoming workforce, he noted that economic downturns have played a role in the departure of young people. “Young male workers are the most likely to lose their jobs during an economic downturn in Wyoming,” he wrote.

Efforts have been made to stem the perpetual loss of young workers.

For example, in 2015, the state launched Wyoming Grown. The program aims to attract people who have left Wyoming by connecting them with potential employment leads. Last year, the program partnered with the state’s tourism department and launched WY Relocate, a marketing campaign touting the natural amenities Wyoming has to offer.

The campaign generated 3,000 leads, ranging from business owners interested in potentially relocating within the state to remote workers considering a new home, according to Shaye Moon, head of the Department of Workforce Services’ business training and support program. . She was unable to say how many of these leads resulted in relocations.

Annual employment in the state also increased 3.1% between July 2020 and 2021 according to the latest report from the Economic Analysis Division. “Job opportunities lead to migration to an area, which is generally true for Wyoming,” Bittner said in the statement.

A temporary fix

“I don’t think the trend we’ve seen of COVID reliably predicting major long-term change,” said Amber Pollock, president of ENGAGE Wyoming, a grassroots organization focused on the 18-35 future. year. in the state. “There are a lot of people who have been trying to solve the problem for a long time. “

Pollock said he heard of people who moved to Wyoming because they lost their jobs or were put on leave, or interrupted their studies for a semester when the pandemic struck. “A lot of people coming back have family here and therefore a better support system for the financial situation that many in our demographic were facing.”

Henry at the University of Wyoming echoed this. “I brought a few students home while they were looking for work.

Moon also said the pandemic played a role in the expressed interest in the Wyoming Grown program. “People who have moved for a job opportunity to a bigger city are now rethinking their whole life plan,” she said. “COVID has played a big part in the desire to come back here, where they are not in a city where they are so close to everyone. “

One thing the pandemic hasn’t changed? The reasons that force young people to leave the state in the first place, according to Pollock, namely better opportunities for education, career advancement and culture elsewhere.

She believes that addressing issues like access to healthcare and public transportation, as well as enacting nondiscrimination ordinances, could really help retain the next generation of Wyomingites.


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