Alaska sees rising unemployment rates despite more jobs

Unemployment rates rose in Alaska in June, as growing numbers of jobseekers outpaced even the state’s rapidly increasing number of summer jobs.

Alaska’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate climbed from 7.0 percent in May to 7.3 percent in June, even as the nation’s rate held steady at 8.2 percent. Both rates were down from a year ago.

The Alaska unemployment numbers were released Friday by the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s Research and Analysis Section.

State economist Neal Fried said the combination of more people working even while the unemployment rate was rising was “not unusual by any means.”

“The number of jobs increases, as they always do in June, but what can happen is the number of people looking for work can also go up even faster for a variety of reasons,” he said.

One of those reasons is persistently high unemployment in the Lower 48, he said.

“Most places the job market is pretty tough,” he said. “People are coming here because our job market is attractive.”

Alaska’s total civilian labor force in June was 375,395, up from both May of this year and June of last year. The number of those that were unemployed rose by smaller amounts, indicating thousands more with jobs at the same time the unemployment rate was increasing.

Fried said that because both the Alaska and the U.S. unemployment rates have been essentially unchanged for most of the year its is difficult to discern any new trends from the monthly data.

“It is too early to tell whether the June increase in Alaska’s rate indicates a new trend,” he said, but noted that both the Alaska and U.S. rates were below their level last year and that Alaska’s rate has been hovering about its 10-year average rate for several months.

Juneau’s unemployment rate rose significantly, from 4.5 percent in May to 5.2 percent in June, but remained one of the lowest rates in the state. It is also below the June 2011 rate of 5.3 percent.

The same job dynamic held true in Juneau as it did statewide, with an expanding number of job seekers, but not quite enough new jobs for all of then. Over the last year, however, the number of unemployed dipped below 1,000, to 998, as the labor force expanded.

One city in Southeast had a lower unemployment rate than Juneau, but Skagway’s 3.2 percent rate wasn’t enough to be the state’s lowest. That honor went to Bristol Bay Borough, where its fish-dependent economy was peaking and the unemployment rate was 2.2 percent.

Other Southeast cities included Sitka at 6.2 percent, Ketchikan at 6.5 percent, Haines at 7.0 percent, Wrangell at 7.7 percent, Yakutat at 8.3 percent, Petersburg at 11.1 percent, Hoonah-Angoon at 13.0 percent and Prince of Wales Island at 14.8 percent.

The highest unemployment rate in the state was the Wade Hampton Census Area at 25.6 percent.

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

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