By on December 31, 2014

PROPSFistbumpBare minimum doesn’t cut it

One clear way to assess whether your politician has a Democratic heart or a Republican heart is to watch how they vote next month on a bill sponsored by Rep. Jim Byrd, a Democrat from Cheyenne.

Byrd is proposing a hike in the state minimum wage. It currently sits at a measly $5.15 an hour. Last year, Byrd’s suggestion to boost the minimum wage to $9 an hour was shot down.

Republicans will argue that the market should determine an employee’s worth. Most conservatives also claim an increase in pay will result in an increase in goods and services down the line. Democrats point to studies like the one done by MIT, which calculated the average living wage for an adult and two children at $20.89 an hour for Wyoming.

Paying $5.15 an hour targets desperate immigrants while single parent families also suffer. It’s time to urge employers to compensate their people fairly.

PROPSFistbumpOnly the hardy need apply

Although Teton County officials are hell bent on encouraging growth and population boom, year-end news from the Wyoming Economic Analysis Division is encouraging for all the right reasons.

The latest data shows more people moved out of Wyoming than moved in last year. It’s the first time the state has experienced a net loss in population since 2001. And it’s the sole reason this columnist moved here.

Wyoming should offer desolation, solitude, open spaces and massive elbowroom. But state leaders encourage business growth in the form of tax incentives or no corporate taxes at all. It’s fine to diversify state economy to hedge against downturns in any one sector, but why invite just anyone here to the Equality State?

Wyoming has never been a place where just anyone can hack it. The Cowboy State was populated with the mentally tough, spirited individual who yearned to learn what was on the other side of the western hill that framed his Pennsylvania farm. When we throw the doors open to just any Jim Dandy, they tend to want to tweak the state into something they remember from their cushier life back home.

Wyoming remains the least populated state (thank goodness) at an estimated 584,000 residents. We still rank 41st for population growth. These are good things, encouraging numbers. You can have your traffic, crime and standing in line for a morning bagel. Just take it to a state where they accept just anyone.

Where is everybody? Desolation Row in Jeffrey City. PHOTO: LELAND RUCKER

Where is everybody? Desolation Row in Jeffrey City. PHOTO: LELAND RUCKER

PROPSFistbumpOil vey! A crude way to live and die

Falling fuel prices should boost tourism in Wyoming. That’s the first element of positive news stemming from the poor oil outlook currently dragging down the global economy. It’s a “good news/bad news” scenario that has the Cowboy State both optimistic and anxious as 2014 draws to a close.

The litmus test for a barrel of crude oil has always hovered around the magic $100 mark. Light crude is currently trading at less than $55 a barrel – a new low that threatens state coffers even as it delights motorists and those tied to the tourism industry.

A supply glut propelled mainly by increased domestic production has resulted in plummeting oil prices – good for travelers but a scary scenario for Wyoming, which relies heavily on its energy extraction. North Dakota’s Bakken play, along with the Texas Eagle Ford, are helping drive down crude oil prices. Wyoming has done its part, too. Powder River Basin daily production reached 78,000 barrels this year – double the output of 2009.

OPEC asserts they will not cut production to stimulate a price increase so it looks like the two-edged sword is here to stay for a while. Wall Street may panic but Main Street is putting a tiger in its tank. For cheap.

About Jake Nichols

Jake is a work in progress.


  1. Gas Prices

    January 1, 2015 at 3:55 pm

    Low gas prices are good for Jackson?

    There will be less State & Federal money to bestow on Wyoming’s biggest welfare queen if there’s a sustained depression in the extractive industry. Wyoming is like Russia. It’s unlikely that Jackson residents who are used to massive State & Federal handouts will appreciate the negative consequences of sustained low gas prices. The minor increase in visitor spending is no substitute for those handouts.

    The price of gas is a minor annoyance for most visitors to Jackson. We saw plenty of new visitors and increasing sales-tax revenue when the price of gas (and everything else) was increasing. Gov. Matt Mead raised the gas tax in Wyoming, and Jackson has some of the highest gas prices in the inter-mountain west, and the nation. If visitors were really driven by the price of gas when it comes to making vacation decisions, then they’d all travel elsewhere. Consumers will certainly have more disposable income with lower gas prices but they may turn around and buy a gas-guzzling truck to replace the Prius. Lower gas prices may bring down airfares but airlines have been stingy about passing along their savings to consumers. Even if they did lower fares, Jackson will remain one of the most expensive places to fly into in the United States. Expanding Snow King’s summer offerings will probably attract more visitors and grow more sales-tax revenue than low gas prices.

  2. An employee's worth

    January 1, 2015 at 3:57 pm

    “You’re in L.A, … It’s the most liberal town in the world, and there’s a part of it that’s kind of racist — not racist like “F— you, nigger” racist, but just an acceptance that there’s a slave state in L.A. There’s this acceptance that Mexicans are going to take care of white people in L.A. …. It’s this weird town.”

    From an interview with Chris Rock in the December 12th issue of ‘The Hollywood Reporter’ magazine.

    Greed & supply, not value, determine “an employee’s worth”. We pay “unskilled”, “lowskilled”, and over-abundant labor – no matter how skilled – the least amount we can. St. John’s Medical Center would not function without a housekeeping staff. A doctor’s value to patients in an unsanitary surgical setting is next to nothing compared to doctor’s value in a sanitary setting. The doctor is stealing value from the housekeeping staff. It’s the real transfer of wealth in the USA – from the poor & powerless to the rich. It’s insidious and shameful.

  3. Bob

    January 1, 2015 at 4:21 pm

    Let’s remember that one of the biggest drivers of low wages in Jackson is expensive real estate due in no small part to land-use policies set by the government.

  4. WalMartshoppers

    January 2, 2015 at 6:57 am

    Apparently, the six heirs to the Walmart fortune are worth as much as 40% of all American households. (google the various numbers)

    It’s a wonderful example of the power of the American dream. One of ’em lives here. A fine Woman. Just a handful of people will be in the position to replicate that dream, or inherit it. The WalMart in Rock Springs for years paid more to their entry-level employees than most Jackson hotels paid to their housekeeping staff. Over ten years ago, yelp, over ten years ago, the Rock Springs’ Walmart dished out more money to individual employees than most of those newly enacted minimum wage laws are providing in 2015. I shop at WalMart. I’d happily pay more for many products if I knew that extra money would reach the underpaid workers sewing those clothes, assembling those microwaves, or stocking the shelves without being distributed elsewhere. That would never happen.

    It used to be that WalMart proudly sold American products. Not so much these days. They sent traditional Main Street businesses packing when Main Street couldn’t compete and WalMart captured so much market share that companies who wanted to place a product into the marketplace had to do business with WalMart on Walmart’s terms. They drove American companies, & jobs, overseas in search of lower productions costs. WalMart figured out intelligent distribution systems and just-in-time inventory tracking (for awhile). WalMart still gets tax breaks for building new stores in many locations. WalMart was smart during the early years. It built stores where large retailers feared to go – rural America. Not so much today. Not so smart, not so rural. WalMart’s workers may still be better compensated than some of Jackson’s workers but most of their suppliers’ workers are clearly not.

    Should WalMart do more to share the wealth? Would it put them out of business? Would Americans pay more for their goods? Will it cause outrage with stockholders who will demand, with legal rights, to see the company maximize returns for investors? Does the company have a civic responsibility outside of paying its fair share of taxes? Do the employees need to find a better job or a second job or unionize or upgrade their skills? Should we allow WalMart to import cheaper labor, hide profits in tax shelters, or get tax exemptions that aren’t given to other retailers?

    There’s a balancing act that’s a riddle to reconcile given the nature of Wall Street, capitalism, politics, and basic human needs. There’s the desire to survive into old age with savings and healthcare for investors and employees; the basic desire to live a full and meaningful life; and, the rightful rewards for building an empire, investing in one, or working for one.

    I can see that six people have more wealth than 100 million Americans and that represents a state of affairs that’s bound to cause more frustration, at some point, than cops killing black people. There’s a limit to what the people will support from the empire builders. Perhaps the new minimum wage laws are the first step to keeping the savages rested instead of restless. Working class wages will never keep up with inflation but the higher minimum wages are a bone to chew on to keep them distracted. As it stands, Wyoming looks like the plantation owner just before the civil war. Out of step with history.

  5. Betsy

    January 4, 2015 at 9:49 am

    There’s the old joke about Republicans’ plans to increase employment and expand opportunities. Cut wages in half and employers can double employment. Lower the standard of living and paychecks will go further.

  6. Al

    January 5, 2015 at 8:53 pm

    It doesn’t surprise me to hear that WalMart has paid better wages than many Jackson employers. WalMart, historically, has paid better wages than Sears, Kmart, JC Penny, etc. It’s easy to bash WalMart but blaming them for all the ills of the World seems like a stretch.

    All sorts of figures are thrown around about Wally World’s employees being subsidized by taxpayers. I don’t know how much of it is true, if any. For example, this is on the web: “They receive about $5,815 per worker from taxpayers.”

    Let’s say it’s true. Do we know how much of that subsidy is due to the actions of store employees – like having 5 children out of wedlock and an unhealthy lifestyle?

    Additionally, the Earned Income Tax Credit could be considered a subsidy and it’s supported by many Republicans and Democrats but is it fair to blame WalMart for the government issuing the EITC?

    Is it fair to blame WalMart for greedy developers who build and price rental units at unreasonable levels for low-income workers – or a healthcare system that sees runaway cost increases? Basic living expenses aren’t controlled by WalMart and WalMart shouldn’t be held responsible for the greed of others which drives prices out of reach for low-income workers.

    Pay should keep up with inflation and cover an employee’s basic needs but when inflation is driven by greed & profit-taking instead of actual inflation related cost increases does WalMart have an obligation to subsidize the greed of others? When WalMart’s employees pay their rent, Walmart is essentially subsidizing the landlords who house their employees. If landlords raise the rent above the rate of inflation, is WalMart the evil corporation for not boosting the pay of employees or is the housing developer the evil corporation for raising rental prices to unreasonable levels?

    It’s certainly cheaper for taxpayers to have people employed at WalMart than to have them unemployed. WalMart has probably saved low-income workers tons of money and that should count for something. It would be interesting to see a more thorough investigation of the issues related to the lives of low-income workers and who’s to blame if they can’t make ends meet while being employed full-time.

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