Job gains forecast in Alaska, but working-age population decline a problem

Alaska is expected to gain 5,400 jobs in 2024, an increase of 1.7% over the past year and enough to nudge total state employment above 2019 levels for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, according to the newly published annual forecast from the Alaska Department of Labor.

The job outlook was published in the January issue of the department’s monthly research magazine, Alaska Economic Trends.

The “major catalyst” for job growth, the forecast said, will be big projects: federally funded infrastructure projects and mining and oil and gas development. That is a change from the past couple of years, in which job growth was largely attributed to recovery from the pandemic.

But a continuing decline in working-age population, particularly in Southeast, presents a challenge for filling jobs, the report said.

“Southeast’s working-age population — people between 18 and 64 — has declined and will likely continue to decrease for at least a few more years,” the report said. The region’s working-age population has fallen by 6,500 since 2000. “It’s difficult to produce job growth without growth in the working-age population.”

The situation appears particularly stark in Anchorage, which has lost residents since its population peaked at 302,167 in 2013 and now has about 19,000 fewer working-age adults than it did a decade ago, the forecast noted. Those losses make the city’s long-term future “unclear,” the forecast said.

“One of the key questions is quality of life: Do people want to live there, raise families, invest in housing and the community, and make it their home?” the forecast said.

Statewide, sectors with the most job growth are mining and oil production, as well as construction.

Sectors remaining flat include manufacturing, federal government employment and financial services, according to the forecast.

There are regional differences in the Anchorage, Fairbanks and Southeast job forecasts that accompany the larger statewide forecast issued by the department.

In Anchorage, expected job growth of 1.6% in 2024 will not be quite enough to bring employment back to 2019 levels, according to that forecast. There are mixed outlooks for different sectors. Economic activity generated by air-cargo traffic is a bright spot, with the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport now ranking as the world’s third-busiest for cargo volume.

In Fairbanks, the pandemic-created job losses were not as steep as for the state as a whole; the large role that the military and the University of Alaska play in the regional economy insulated the area somewhat from pandemic effects on employment. The job recovery in Fairbanks is likewise expected to be less dramatic, with 1.4% growth, according to the region-specific forecast.

In Southeast, tourism-related employment will continue to grow following a record year for cruise passengers to Alaska, and government employment is expected to remain steady. However, the region is expected to suffer losses in seafood-processing jobs, according to the regional forecast.

The Alaska Beacon is an independent, donor-funded news organization. The Wrangell Sentinel contributed reporting for this story.


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