Chum salmon are processed at Taku Smokeries in June 2011. New figures show a continued decline in the number of jobs available in Alaska. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Chum salmon are processed at Taku Smokeries in June 2011. New figures show a continued decline in the number of jobs available in Alaska. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Alaska jobs numbers continue to fall

Unemployment picture improves, but outmigration may be creating muddy figures

Alaska’s unemployment dipped from August to September, but the number of jobs in Alaska continues to fall, indicating the 49th state has not yet begun its recovery from a local recession that began three years ago.

“The best indicator of the health of our economy right now is the jobs numbers,” said state economist Karinne Wiebold. “I would definitely focus on that over the unemployment rate.”

According to figures released Friday by the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Alaska had 2,000 fewer jobs in September 2018 than it did in September 2017. Alaska had 338,200 nonfarm jobs in September; that’s down 13,000 from the 351,200 the state had in September 2015, at the start of the state’s current recession. The number of September jobs this year was the lowest since September 2009.

Alaska unemployment is extremely seasonal, reaching a low ebb in January and a high point in July. In July 2015, Alaska’s job figures peaked at 365,000 jobs. In July this year, the state had 351,500 jobs, down 13,500 from the peak.

While job losses continue, the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate has fallen since the start of the year, when it stood at 7.3 percent. The unemployment rate is now 6.5 percent, indicating fewer Alaskans are looking for work.

That may be because more people have retired, have given up on finding a job or simply moved away.

“We have had negative net migration for the past four years,” Wiebold said, adding that it’s unclear what factor is driving the disconnect between unemployment rate and falling jobs figures here.

“Even in a weak economy, the unemployment rate can be down,” she said.

The unemployment decline is also preliminary and may be revised.

Outmigration has been a significant issue for Alaska in recent years, and between 2016 and 2017 it rose to levels that more than equaled the state’s natural population growth through births. That led to the state’s first population decline in 29 years. At the same time, the state is also seeing a surge in the number of older Alaskans as the Baby Boomer generation ages into retirement.

• Contact reporter James Brooks at or 523-2258.

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