The ability to “make it,” though, often depends not only on an individual’s job, but the location where the individual lives. For example, paying rent in New York City, Chicago or Jackson, Wyoming, will look different than paying rent in Akron, Ohio, or Fort Wayne, Indiana.
So how does that look for young people just starting out in Sheridan County, Wyoming?
As one would imagine, it all depends. Age, sex and industry occupation all factor into the financial security of people under the age of 40.
In February 2020, the Wyoming Women’s Foundation published work by Diana M. Pearce, director of the Center for Women’s Welfare at the University of Washington School of Social Work. The study — “The Self-Sufficiency Standard for Wyoming 2020” — examines the cost of living for families in the state.
“The Self-Sufficiency Standard represents the bare minimum of what it takes to survive without public or private assistance,” said Rebekah Smith, director of the Wyoming Women’s Foundation.
It takes into account housing, child care, food, transportation, health care, taxes, emergency savings and miscellaneous expenses. It does not, Smith said, account for things such as entertainment or meals eaten at restaurants. It also does not account for student loan debt.
According to a “Self-Sufficiency Calculator” on the WWF website, a single adult living in Sheridan County needs to earn approximately $10.15 per hour or $21,432 annually to meet basic needs. A family of two adults and one child would need to earn approximately $48,180 per year, meaning each adult would need to earn approximately $11.41 per hour at a full-time job.
Does Sheridan County provide?
Even in the fast food industry, many Sheridan County employers pay staff members the requisite $10.14 per hour individuals need to sustain themselves according to the self-sufficiency calculator. The challenge can be, at times, finding full-time work to earn the annual wage required to pay basic expenses.
According to data from the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services, individuals between the ages of 20 and 24 earn an average of $16,474 per year. That age group, though, often includes college students who may only work part-time while attending school.
As expected, average incomes increase with age. Those between the ages of 25 and 34 in Sheridan County earn an average of $31,380 annually while those ages 35-44 earn $43,481.
Those wages do vary, though, based on the kind of work an individual does.
According to Wyoming Department of Workforce Services data, individuals working in the mining industry fare the best, with wages for those between the ages of 25-34 averaging approximately $52,600 per year.
Manufacturing wages follow mining with average wages of $41,200 per year.
Individuals working in the leisure and hospitality industry — which includes jobs like restaurant and bartending work that often rely on tips — struggle the most, with average wages for 25- to 34-year-olds at just $16,600 per year.
Malia Smiley, 24, works about five days per week at Frackelton’s in downtown Sheridan and said that job has been better than others she’s held in the service industry.
“Frackelton’s is a busy place in Sheridan most of the time,” she said, adding that jobs in smaller restaurants and bars make it harder to make ends meet.
But friends of hers who work across the community in the hospitality sector have struggled to earn a living, especially over the last year due to pandemic health orders limiting customers’ access to bars and restaurants.
Retail workers came in second to the bottom in terms of industry wages, with average annual salaries of $23,200.
Housing tops expenses
Aaron Gray, 27, has worked in a variety of industries in Wyoming. He’s a third- generation resident of the state who movd to Sheridan in 2000 with his family and later attended Sheridan College.
Over the years, he has worked as a retail manager, personal trainer, podcast co-founder and oil and gas landman.
While Gray said he believes Sheridan can be affordable for young people, it isn’t always.
“I know plenty of young professionals my age who have great careers or have started their own business and find Sheridan ‘affordable,’” Gray said. “Affordable means different things to different people. I do think this housing boom in Wyoming, and in particular Sheridan, is creating stress on rentals and ‘starter’ homes for young individuals looking to stay here.”
A quick look at the local housing market shows low inventory in homes costing less than $300,000 and only a handful that cost less than $200,000. The week of April 19, seven houses listed on the MLS were less than $200,000.
Rentals are also difficult to come by, and while cost of living analysis reports from the Wyoming Economic Analysis Division show statewide average rental rates for a two-bedroom, unfurnished apartment that includes electric costing an average of $684 per month in the second quarter of 2020, few listings in Sheridan match that price in classified ads or online listings.
Smiley noted housing is the most expensive part of her budget and said she wouldn’t be able to live alone in her apartment without working five days per week while she also attends school as part of Sheridan College’s nursing program.
The demand for housing, COVID-19 manufacturing delays and other issues have led to an increase in the cost of building supplies, too, compounding the problem surrounding attainable housing.
“Outside of that — nothing here is relatively ‘expensive’ compared to coastal states and/or metropolitan areas,” Gray added.
Smiley said while making ends meet can at times be difficult working in the hospitality industry, she is optimistic about her ability to earn more after finishing her degree in the spring as nurses are typically in high demand locally.