Birth rate helps make up for loss of residents who left Alaska last year

Alaska’s population rose in 2022 according to new estimates released Jan. 5 by the Alaska Department of Labor, marking a second consecutive year of increases after four years of declines.

The new Alaska population estimate, 736,556, is the highest since 2018, but the state continues to see more people moving out than moving in, and 2022 marked the 10th consecutive year of negative net migration, said state demographer David Howell.

The state gained about 450 people despite that migration loss because the number of births was greater than the number of deaths and the out-migration.

Nolan Klouda, director of the University of Alaska Center for Economic Development, said the “glass half-full” argument is that the outmigration rate is dropping. “We could say that’s a good thing. But it’s still a far cry from being in neutral territory or net positive migration,” he said.

Population figures are a gauge of the state’s economy and are critical for measuring future demand for services like hospitals, ferries, roads and schools.

“It’s a pretty important indicator of economic health,” Klouda said. “People do tend to vote with their feet and move to a place that sees more economic opportunity, has more job growth and more opportunity in general.”

In Anchorage, arguments over school closures have included discussions of the state’s declining school-age population, something that may also feature in legislative discussions of the state’s student-funding formula.

The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant effect on state demographics, according to the new demographic report, which is published annually in January and estimates population as of July 1 the preceding year.

“During the pandemic, just less and less people moved,” Howell said.

The report shows last year had the most in-migrants since 2012-2013 and the most out-migrants since 2016-2017. Subtracting the departures from the arrivals results in a loss of 2,489 residents in 2022.

Despite that loss, the state gained population because there were 9,364 births and 6,424 deaths, a natural increase of 2,940 — more than the number of people who left.

Twenty-four states had more deaths than births, and Alaska is trending in that direction, too. The state’s fertility rate — the number of births per woman of reproductive age — is above the national average but has been declining for years.

Conversely, the state’s death rate has been climbing as the state’s average age rises. In the new report, the number of deaths is the most on record, jumping by almost 1,000 from the previous year, which also was the record.

Deaths from COVID-19 account for some of that rise, but not all of it. This month, the Department of Labor’s monthly trends report shows elderly Alaskans — those at least 71 years old — now make up more than 7% of the state’s population, an all-time high.

Children — those under 15 — are now just 22% of the population, down from 29% in the early 1990s.

Most cities and boroughs recorded small population declines between 2021 and 2022, the state estimated. The Matanuska-Susitna Borough and the Kenai Peninsula Borough were notable exceptions.

The Fairbanks North Star Borough is down by more than 1,000 residents.

Anchorage, which remains the state’s largest city, dropped below 290,000 residents, in part because of out-migration and because of residents moving to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, which has a lower cost of living and more available housing.

Some rural Alaska communities have had stable populations because a high birth rate counteracts long-term outmigration. But with declining birth rates, that effect is fading. The Nome Census Area, North Slope Borough and Northwest Arctic Borough all posted lower populations.

Wrangell’s population continued its steady decline, the state report said, from 2,369 in the 2010 U.S. Census to 2,127 in the 2020 census, down to 2,084 in the state estimate for July 2022.

The Alaska Beacon is an independent, donor-funded news organization.


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