Juneau's employment picture brightens

Posted: Sunday, March 13, 2011

Juneau’s unemployment rate remained one of the lowest in the state in January, while Alaska’s rate continued its more than two year stay below the national average, according to the Alaska Department of Labor.

Juneau’s unemployment rate was 6 percent in January, with only the North Slope Borough lower at 4.2 percent. Juneau’s rate a year ago was a full percentage point higher at 7 percent, with about 100 fewer unemployed in the capital. The numbers are not seasonally adjusted.

Alaska’s economy, largely driven by oil and government, continues to do relatively well, the monthly employment report showed.

Alaska’s economy gained about 8,400 jobs in the last year, with leisure and hospitality leading the way. Other key industries such as logging and mining added 800 jobs over the year and oil and gas added 500.

Statewide, some regional economies that rely on seafood processing such as Kodiak and the Aleutian region saw big job gains as groundfish and opilio crab seasons began.

High unemployment rates continued in tourism-dependent communities, with Skagway the highest in the state at 29.9 percent. During summer it has sometimes had the lowest rate in the state.

Other Southeast unemployment rates included Hoonah-Angoon at 25.5 percent, Prince of Wales-Hyder at 18.4 percent, Petersburg at 16.3 percent, Yakutat at 15.7 percent, Haines at 13.7 percent, Wrangell at 11.6 percent, Ketchikan at 9.7 percent and Sitka at 7.8 percent.

The improving national economy should help Alaska’s jobless rate even more, said labor economist Neal Fried. That’s because fewer people will move to Alaska looking for work, while Alaskans who lose jobs may head south for the increased opportunities there.

It’s very unusual for Alaska, with its highly seasonal economy, to have an unemployment rate lower than the national rate, but that happened for the first time in 2009 and has remained that way.

That may not last, Fried said.

“If the nation’s jobless rate continues to recover and approaches normal levels, the differences between Alaska and he rest of the U.S. will likely narrow, and could eventually reverse,” he said.

The state unemployment rates, which are not seasonally adjusted, showed Alaska’s unemployment rate increasing from 8.1 percent in December to 8.5 percent in January, which Fried said was typical of the season. The state non-seasonally adjusted rate was 9.3 percent in January of 2010. The number of unemployed Alaskans dropped by about 2,800 over the year, the department said.

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

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