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Economic turmoil misses Alaska as job levels hit new record

Posted: August 21, 2011 - 8:37pm

Alaska set a jobs record in July as key industries such as fishing, tourism and construction hit their peak seasons, and the state continues to avoid the full brunt of the recession with which most of the nation is still struggling.

Alaska’s key industries, which include those seasonal industries, along with oil and gas, mining and air cargo have largely been on growth trajectories for years, said Neal Fried, economist for the Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s Research and Analysis Section.

“Every national recession that we’ve had, we’ve skipped” in Alaska, Fried said.

In July, Alaska had about 355,000 people working in the state, up about 7,000 from July of last year.

Only in 2009, said Fried, did Alaska have a decline in jobs, and then only by 0.4 percent.

In 2010 the state made up those small losses in jobs, and then continued to surpass them this year.

The state’s unemployment rate continues to hang below the national rate. That was once an unusual position for Alaska, Fried said, but is getting less unusual after 33 consecutive months below the national average.

Fried said commodity prices, such as oil and metals, have remained strong during and after the recession, lifting the state’s economy.

A couple of key industries, he said, have shown signs of the decline in the Lower 48, including tourism and air cargo.

“If the American economy had kept growing, we probably would have grown even more,” he said. A stronger national economy means more visitors to Alaska and more air cargo flowing through Anchorage International Airport on the way to markets in the Lower 48.

Alaska’s unemployment rate is still above its 10-year average of 7.1 percent, but Fried did not predict any rapid improvement there.

“This national recession has been so deep and long, though it’s officially over, its effects are not over by any means,” he said.

The national economic problems are likely linked to the state’s high unemployment rate, he said.

Alaskans who lose their jobs are less likely to move south if they don’t believe they’ll be able to find a job there either, he said.

The state’s non-seasonally adjusted unemployment rate had a significant drop, from 7.8 percent in June to 6.9 percent in July, but remained only barely below the 7.0 percent in July of 2010.

Juneau and every other Southeast community saw decreases in unemployment in July, with Skagway at 2.8 percent below Juneau’s 4.7 percent. Next lowest was Haines at 5.0 percent, Wrangell at 5.4 percent, Ketchikan at 5.6 percent, Yakutat at 7.1 percent, Petersburg at 7.4 percent, Hoonah-Angoon at 11.0 percent and Prince of Whales at 12.7 percent.

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

Unemployment Rates

7/11 6/11 7/10

Alaska 7.7% 7.5% 7.9%

U.S. 9.1% 9.2% 9.5%

Note: Rates are seasonally adjusted.

Source: Alaska Department of Labor & Workforce Development

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