Alaska continues trend toward employment growth

State labor department forecasts Alaska will add 4,400 new jobs in 2004

Posted: Tuesday, December 21, 2004

ANCHORAGE - Alaska is continuing its trend toward uninterrupted employment growth.

With 2004 winding down, Alaska will have 17 years of uninterrupted growth - a feat few other states can claim.

Since 1988, more people have been employed each year than the previous year, making the last 17 years the longest period of uninterrupted employment growth in the state's history, said economist Neal Fried of the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

"It is sort of an amazing string of growth," Fried said. "I think we are in a pretty unique spot being able to say how long the growth has lasted."

Only six other states can claim such a long run, according to the Alaska Journal of Commerce.

Alaska along with Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Arizona, New Mexico and North Dakota are expected to end their 17th consecutive year of employment gains with the passing of 2004, he said.

Even though Alaska has gained jobs every year since 1988, some the gains have been slight.

Alaska gained a mere 1,600 new jobs, or six-tenths of a percentage point, in 1996 to continue its streak. In 1999, Alaska held on with a 1 percent growth in employment. In other years, Alaska showed larger employment gains, like in 1998 with 6,300 new jobs, or a 2.4 percent increase.

Overall, Alaska's employment growth has been slow and steady, and 2004 is no exception, with an estimated 1.5 percent employment growth.

The state labor department forecasted in its May 2004 monthly publication that Alaska will add 4,400 new jobs in 2004, for a total of 304,000 people employed in nonfarm wage and salary jobs. The number does not account for Alaska's self-employed.

So far, the department's forecast has held.

The greatest concentration of new jobs this year has been in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and Anchorage area. In October 2004, some 163,550 people were employed in the state's most populated area. That's 3,050 more jobs in October 2004 than 12 months prior, or a 1.9 percent gain in employment.

While the employment gains have not been as great in Alaska's other regions, 2004 hasn't seen any significant job losses in any particular area, according to Fried. Unlike past years, no big timber mills or mining operations have shut down in 2004.

The employment gains have also been concentrated in certain industries, with educational and health services outpacing all other sectors.

"The Big Kahuna is health care," Fried said, referring to the rapid growth that sector has experienced.

Alaska added another 1,800 jobs this year in the educational and health services sector for a total of 34,700 jobs, according to the state labor department's May 2004 forecast.

The construction industry has also experienced big employment gains with an estimated 700 jobs added in 2004 to employ 17,400 construction workers statewide. The industry's estimated 4.2 percent employment increase is in large part attributed to commercial and military construction projects, according to the labor department's forecast.

Another growing industry in Alaska that added new jobs in 2004 is leisure and hospitality.

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