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Unemployment rates head lower in state, nation

Alaska's oil & gas jobs remain strong

Posted: April 25, 2011 - 8:27pm

Alaska’s employment picture continues to look better than the nation’s, with key Alaska industries continuing to show strength in March jobless numbers released by the Alaska Department of Labor.

That includes oil and gas jobs, recently a source of controversy in legislative debate over the state’s ACES oil tax law.

Alaska’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for March was 7.4 percent, remaining below the nation’s rate of 8.8 percent, with both edging slowly downward.

“The Alaska and U.S. rates for March both came in below year-ago levels, and both have been trending downward for many months,” said Neal Fried, state labor economist.

Alaska has added more than 8,000 jobs over the last year. Not all of those went to Alaskans, but the number of unemployed residents fell by several thousand during the year.

Employment in the oil and gas industry remained steady at 12,900 from February to March, and was up 700 jobs from a year ago.

The number of industry jobs has been the subject of legislative hearings, as Gov. Parnell and industry advocates of oil tax cuts have said employment is down due to the adoption of ACES in 2007.

The state’s employment data, however, shows employment up since the adoption of ACES, a trend March’s data continues.

Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, chairman of the Senate Labor & Commerce Committee, has said the committee will continue to look into the discrepancy.

Alaska’s North Slope Borough tends to have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state, though heavily fishing- or tourist- oriented communities occasionally displace it as the best place in the state to find a job.

In March the lowest unemployment rate in the state was the Aleutians West Census Area at 3.9 percent, followed by the North Slope Borough’s 4.4 percent.

Soon, tourist, construction and other seasonal industry hiring will bring the entire state’s unemployment rate down, Fried said.

“By April or May unemployment rates will probably begin to fall as the busy summer season begins, he said.

Juneau’s March unemployment rate was 5.9 percent, same as February, but down from last March’s 6.6 percent.

Other Southeast rates were higher, with Sitka at 6.6 percent, Ketchikan at 8.8 percent, Wrangell at 10.1 percent, Haines at 11.2 percent, Petersburg at 12.6 percent, Yakutat at 13.4 percent, and Skagway at 23 percent. Hoonah-Angoon at 24.8 percent, was highest in the state.

The regional numbers are not seasonally adjusted.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 586-4816 or at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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