Juneau slips to third place for top incomes

Posted: Wednesday, August 01, 2001

Juneau residents made more money in 1999 than in 1998, but the capital city still slipped a notch on a federal list ranking areas in Alaska by highest average personal income.

The Denali Borough, which ranked fourth highest of 27 areas in 1998, bumped Juneau from second to third place in 1999, according to a new analysis by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The Bristol Bay Borough held on to first place with an average income per capita of $43,996, the Denali Borough rose to second at $38,410 and Juneau ranked third at $33,974 - up from $33,201 in 1998. The average income statewide in 1999 was $28,629 and the average U.S. income was $28,546.

The Bristol Bay area in Southwest Alaska includes King Salmon, Naknek, and South Naknek and depends on commercial fishing, processing, government jobs and transportation services. The Denali Borough south of Fairbanks includes the towns of Anderson, Cantwell, Ferry, Healy, Lignite, and McKinley Park and ranks coal mining, education, the military, a utility and tourism as major employers.

Juneau routinely ranks at the top of the list largely because its government jobs pay above-average wages, said state economist Neal Fried, who examined the data in a paper published in the July issue of Alaska Economic Trends. However, Fried was not sure why the Denali Borough displaced the capital city.

"The Denali Borough was strong. That was hard to explain to some extent, but there was some pretty strong construction going on there," said Fried, who noted the Denali area is small and one large project can affect average income figures dramatically.

Fried cautioned the data does not measure only wages, but income, which includes wages, salaries, dividends, inheritances, Social Security and other pools of money. The federal agency added all income in each area, then divided the sum by the number of residents, including children, to calculate average personal income per capita by area, Fried said.

"It's seen to some extent as a different kind of measure of economic well-being," said Fried, who noted the analysis did not factor in the number of dependents, the size of the labor force, or other demographics that could have a powerful effect on the data.

Roughly 40 miles northeast of Anchorage, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough ranked third from the bottom at $18,615. Its Assembly recently endorsed a citizens' initiative to move legislative sessions from Juneau to the Mat-Su Borough, with at least one Assembly member saying she would support the initiative in hopes of boosting her region's economy. The measure could appear on the 2002 statewide ballot.

The rural Wade Hampton area in western Alaska ranked last with an average income of $13,029 in 1999. Wade Hampton is a group of nine villages with a median age of 20, making it the youngest "county" of all counties in the nation, Fried wrote in his report.

The state's lowest income areas are rural - seven of eight areas with incomes of 75 percent or less of the statewide and national averages are in rural Alaska, Fried said. The urban area in that category is the Mat-Su Borough, which showed average income at 65 percent of the statewide and national averages.

Average income rose in 24 areas from 1998 to 1999 but declined in three others. The Bethel area, which ranked second from the bottom, registered a decrease of 2.2 percent, while the Yakutat Borough showed a 1.8 percent decline. The average income in the North Slope Borough dropped 0.7 percent, but it still ranks slightly above the national and statewide averages - unlike the other two areas where incomes declined.

Anchorage, Alaska's largest city, slid from third place in 1998 to fourth with an average income of $33,813 in 1999 - up from $32,992 in 1998. The U.S. Department of Commerce releases average income data by state annually but takes up to two years to break it down by area, Fried said.

Kathy Dye can be reached at kdye@juneauempire.com.

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