The numbers are heading in the wrong direction

It’s impossible to miss the shortage of workers across Alaska, and certainly in Wrangell. Whether it’s the help wanted signs and advertisements, the social media posts or the cutback in hours and service, the staff shortages are obvious.

And it’s making life harder for many people, such as the Wrangell Senior Center stopping in-person hot lunches and cutting down on rides until it can get back to full staffing.

No doubt there are a lot of reasons why more people don’t apply for the multitude of private- and public-sector job openings, including the lack of affordable child care and health concerns. But an underlying problem is that Alaska is losing working-age residents.

“The size of Alaska’s working-age population has been declining for nine years in a row,” the state Department of Labor reported in the March issue of its Trends magazine. The number of Alaskans between 18 and 64 years old dropped by 30,000 from its high in 2013 to 2022.

As Alaskans age out of their working years, the state is falling short on replenishing the workforce. The number of new residents moving to the state has fallen behind the number leaving for 10 years in a row. Going back to 2013, Alaska’s decline in its working-age population has been one of the largest among the 50 states, the Labor Department said.

“Adults in their 20s and 30s used to be the main source of Alaska’s working-age migration gains, but adults in those age groups now constitute a net outflow of more than 500 people per year — a drop of nearly 2,500 since the pre-2013 rise,” the department reported.

What Alaska employers wouldn’t give for an additional 500 job applicants a year.

“Areas with a working-age decline have grappled with labor shortages, slow or stagnant economic growth, less consumer demand,” the Labor Department said.

Unfortunately, Wrangell is among the worst hit by the decline in working-age residents. It’s one of four areas listed with more than a 20% drop in the 18- to 64-year-old workforce between 2013 and 2022. Southeast communities in total lost 11% of their working-age population, the highest regional loss in the state.

Unless the out-migration trend is reversed and births pick up (which would require more young families), the Labor Department estimates Wrangell could lose an additional 300 residents over the next two decades, falling to 1,773 by 2045.

That is not a good number or an encouraging projection for the community. Which means Wrangell — and the state as a whole — needs to always be thinking of what can be done to entice new residents to town.

— Wrangell Sentinel


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