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Seasonal hiring drops Juneau's unemployment rate

Posted: June 18, 2011 - 10:23pm

Juneau’s unemployment rate is falling, typical for this time of year, but the local economy appears to be growing more strongly than last year even while the effects of the national recession stubbornly hold on.

Juneau’s unemployment rate in May, when tourism hiring picks up, was 4.9 percent, down from 5.3 percent in April. Notably, it was also down from last May’s 5.3 percent as well.

Those numbers are not seasonally adjusted, and are provided monthly by the Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s Research and Analysis Section.

While the number of unemployed was declining in Juneau, it wasn’t doing so as fast as usual for the state as a whole, or the nation. Both saw their seasonally adjusted unemployment rates inch up a tenth of a percent, even as the number of people with jobs rose.

Alaska continued more than two years with an unemployment rate lower than the national average, unusual in the state’s history.

State Economist Neal Fried noted Alaska’s jobless numbers were better than 34 states and equal to two others.

That could wind up driving up Alaska’s unemployment rate, he said.

“Alaska’s relatively healthy job market likely means more new jobs seekers, which puts some pressure on the state’s jobless rate,” he said.

The Economic Policy Institute noted Friday that Alaska was one of just three states that had employment levels higher now than at the beginning of the recession. The other two, Texas and North Dakota, both have oil-dominated economies as well.

While oil dominates the state’s overall economy, in many regions of the state fishing and tourism drive the monthly changes. In four of the state’s six regions, state economists said, unemployment fell as normal seasonal upswings began.

Skagway’s unemployment rate, which sometimes leads the state in the winter, dropped to 4.4 percent in May, even lower than Juneau’s. The unemployment rate in the Denali Borough dropped 10 full points in the month, to one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state.

Elsewhere it was fishing, with Bristol Bay’s rate dropping to 2.9 percent, the lowest in the state.

That can also hurt, however. The state’s highest rate was in the Aleutians East Borough, at 21 percent, where some groundfish seasons had just ended.

Other Southeast unemployment rates were Sitka at 5.8 percent, Ketchikan at 6.7 percent, Haines at 7 percent, Wrangell at 7.9 percent, Petersburg at 9.1 percent, Yakutat at 9.6 percent, and the Hoonah-Angoon and Prince of Whales-Hydaburg areas at each at 13.2 percent.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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