University report shows Anchorage changing rapidly

Residents over age 65 in state's largest city number five times national average

Posted: Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The number of Anchorage residents over the age of 65 is growing at five times the national average, a development that could help stabilize the city's economy, according to a study by the University of Alaska Anchorage.

The study, "Anchorage at 90: Changing Fast, with More to Come," by UAA's Institute for Social and Economic Research, also says that Anchorage, like other large U.S. cities, will see an increasing minority population and a large number of baby boomers entering retirement.

The study raises questions, such as who will replace the baby boomer generation in the work force and how the city will provide healthcare for an aging population.

Many of the answers will be determined by the boom-bust realities of Alaska's resource-based economy, such as petroleum development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and the state's ability to address long-term fiscal problems, according to ISER's Scott Goldsmith.

Increased federal spending and dividend payments from the Alaska Permanent Fund have helped insulate Anchorage from a nationwide economic slowdown that began in the late 1990s, Goldsmith said.

From 1995 to 2000, the city's population dropped by about 17,000 residents, according to the study. The exodus was largely fueled by a booming U.S. economy and a drop in high-paying oil industry jobs in Anchorage.

But an influx of money from the federal government has helped create jobs, and dividend payments from the Alaska Permanent Fund helped the unemployed and those in low-paying jobs from entering into poverty, Goldsmith said.

"About 5 percent of Anchorage residents fell below the federal poverty line in 2000, compared with 12.4 percent nationwide," the study said. "But without dividends, Anchorage's poverty rate could have risen to 9 percent."

Federal spending in Alaska jumped from about $7,700 per capita in 1998 to about $12,300 in 2003, but that trend is not likely to continue, Goldsmith said.

Baby boomers - those born roughly between 1946 and 1964 - represent about a third of the Anchorage population, higher than the national average. As they reach retirement age, Anchorage's over-65 population will grow from 6 percent to 11 percent by 2020, according to the study.

"More income that doesn't depend on the job market would tend to help make the city economy more stable," the study said. "Older people who collect Social Security and private pensions, and often investment income, bring money into the state economy. That money has multiplier effects - that is, when new money comes into the economy, it helps support new jobs."

Minorities now make up about 27 percent of the Anchorage population, the report said. Many still lack the education needed to get high-paying jobs.

The report says the income and education levels of all residents ages 25 to 34 years dropped in the 1990s. With an increase in low-paying trade and service industry jobs over the last decade in Anchorage, the incomes of young people dropped about 11 percent, the study said.

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