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Alaskans appear to be getting richer, according to data showing incomes for 2004 up nearly $1 billion from the previous year.
A study by the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development that appeared in the department's monthly magazine, Trends, reviewed state income levels in comparison with the rest of the nation.
Alaskans earned a combined $22.6 billion in 2004, a 3.7 percent increase from the year before. By dividing that number by the total number of state residents, Alaska shows its per capita income was $34,085. The national average is $32,937.
"That means we have a larger economy," department economist Brigitta Windisch-Cole said.
Alaska ranks 16th in the nation for per capita income, with Connecticut the highest at $45,506 and Mississippi the lowest with $24,650.
Alaska's ranking peaked in 1975 at No. 1 and held its place for more than a decade, until the state hit a recession in 1986. In the 1990s, Alaska's economy grew at a slower pace than the national economy.
"The state experienced strong growth in the lower-wage industries such as retail and other services and weaker growth - in some cases actual loses - in its high-wage industries such as oil, timber and fishing," the study said.
What Alaskans earn
Average per capita income for Alaskans: $34,085.
Average per capita income nationwide: $32,937.
Alaska's ranking for per capita income: 16th in the nation.
Average household income for Alaskans: $57,027
Average household income nationwide: $44,684
Alaska's ranking for household income: fourth in the nation.
That trend continues today, though growth in the construction and health care industries is stabilizing the state's averages with high-paying jobs.
"It's been a little flat with some upward movement over the years," department economist Neil Fried said.
Windisch-Cole said East Coast states that top the list also have a high cost of living and their residents pay certain income and sales taxes that Alaska doesn't have.
Income averages for Alaska homes are still relatively high, with state households at a fourth-best $57,027 compared to the national average of $44,684. Alaska families are in sixth place, making $66,254, or about $12,500 more than the national average.
Fried said the numbers show more members of families and households are working and Alaska's population has fewer retirees than other states.
"More people are in their prime working age," he said.
With as many as 300 mining jobs planned in Alaska for the near future, the state's income statistics could rise, Fried said.
If the state only experiences growth with low-wage industries, such as the retail and hospitality, the state could drop among the national rankings, he said.
Windisch-Cole said more retail and lodging business may not make Alaska richer, but they help diversify the state's economy.
Juneau's per capita income is above the state average, at $36,668. The state's highest income is in the Bristol Bay Borough, where residents average $40,769 with a solid commercial fishing industry. Anchorage follows in second place, at $37,750.
The Wade Hampton Census Area is the lowest with a per capita income of $15,748. The study said that area is made up of small communities with little cash income and it has the state's youngest population, with a median age of 19.3, versus 33.3 statewide.
Andrew Petty can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org