Alaska's per-capita income drops to national average

State barely above national average

Posted: Monday, July 10, 2000

Alaska, once the national pacesetter when it came to per-capita income, is now merely average.

In 1999 average income for Alaskans was $28,523 for every man, woman and child, according to figures recently released by the federal Commerce Department. The income counted includes money from any source, such as wages, dividends or interest earnings. The amount was the 17th-highest per-capita income in the country, but it was only $5 more than the national average.

The Commerce Department also said Alaska's per-capita income grew 2.5 percent last year, slower than any other state. The national growth rate was nearly twice as high.

Federal economists attributed the modest increase to a slowdown in all major Alaska industries. At the same time, income in other states rocketed up last year.

``This whole technological boom hasn't hit home in Alaska like it has in other states,'' said Neal Fried, a state labor economist.

Last year, the Commerce Department reported that Alaska's per-capita income in 1998 had dropped below the national average.

But the department recently revised its formula, Fried said, and ``that has brought us back up above the average for that year. But I think we will fall below this year, even with the revised figures.''

The 1998 numbers showed Alaska's statewide average at $27,835. Those figures are the most recent available for towns and counties. They show the Bristol Bay Borough with the highest per-capita income at $43,439, with Juneau's $33,516 in second and Anchorage, with $32,659, ranking third.

Fried said Juneau's relatively high number of government jobs and very high percentage of working residents are the reason for the town's high ranking.

Part of the reason Alaska is slipping behind the rest of the country is that fewer residents are employed in high-paying jobs compared with 15 or 20 years ago, he said.

John Mazor, president of the Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau, said economic information now is ``mixed,'' and, in Juneau, a little odd. In Southeast, there's been a slight loss of population and a flat job market -- with estimates showing only 100 new jobs added to the region last year.

``What doesn't jibe with that are housing costs,'' he said. In Juneau they continue to rise despite the rather flat numbers that usually increase or decrease demand, Mazor said. Southeast, he said, is still feeling the economic impact of pulp mill closures in recent years.

During the height of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline construction in the mid-1970s, Alaska income soared to 78 percent above the national average, according to the Commerce Department.

Through 1986, when an oil price collapse kicked the state's economy into a prolonged recession, Alaskans enjoyed the nation's highest per-capita income.

Declining oil production has caused hundreds of layoffs in recent years. Timber, mining and other industries have also seen declines.

What has increased over the past decade is jobs in the retail and service industries, including tourism. Those jobs, however, generally pay less than those in natural resource fields.

Connecticut led the country in per-capita income with $39,167. It had a growth rate in 1999 of 4.9 percent. Wyoming had the highest growth rate at 7 percent.

Empire reporter Svend Holst contributed to this article.

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