Unemployment up slightly in September

Overall jobs trend shows slow, steady growth

Posted: Sunday, October 19, 2003

Unemployment in Alaska was at 6.8 percent in September, about one-10th of 1 percent higher than in August, according to the state Department of Labor.

That number, however, is down three-10ths of a percentage point from a year ago.

"It's been remarkably consistent," said Dan Robinson, a labor economist for the state. "We've seen this in the job market for years now. It's slow, steady growth. There are industries that are struggling, but net we are seeing a little bit of growth."

Unemployment in Juneau was at 5.5 percent in September, up three-tenths of a percent from 2002.

The national rate - not adjusted for fluctuations in seasonal employment - fell two-10ths of a percentage point to 5.8 percent.

Employment in Alaska overall fell in September by 4,300 jobs, but most of those are tied to seasonal employment, largely in the fishing and tourism industries, Robinson said.

There was a decline of about 3,500 manufacturing jobs, mainly in seafood processing, and about 2,400 in the leisure and hospitality sector. Government jobs increased by 4,000, though, largely due to teachers headed back to school.

"That's typical," Robinson said. "It happens every September."

Alaska's three largest cities, Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau, had unemployment rates at least 1 percent lower than the statewide average of 6.8 percent, according to the Department of Labor.

The Anchorage, Mat-Su region showed a decline in unemployment from a year ago, dropping from 5.8 percent last year to 5.6 percent in September.

The Fairbanks North Star Borough unemployment rate remained steady at 5.7 percent.

Rural areas of the state showed the highest unemployment rates, according to the report.

The Wade Hampton region, which consists of villages west of the Anchorage area such as McGrath, Hooper Bay and Alakanuk, showed the highest unemployment rates in the state at 25.7 percent. That number is up a year ago from about 23.8 percent.

Robinson said the number of unemployed in the region, though, is likely much higher.

"The rates underestimate the extent that these areas are struggling because to be counted you have to be actively looking for work," Robinson said. "The wage and salary jobs (in those regions) are few, and everyone knows when one comes open."

Students returning to school and seasonal workers who are not looking for work also are not considered part of the labor force, according to the report.

The Northwest Arctic and North Slope boroughs and the study area that includes Bethel also showed increasing unemployment rates.

• Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at timothyi@juneauempire.com.

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