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Alaska gains jobs during summer peak but is still below pre-pandemic figures

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Alaska gains jobs during summer peak but is still below pre-pandemic figures

Sep 18, 2023 | 9:00 am ET
By James Brooks
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Alaska gains jobs during summer peak but is still below pre-pandemic figures
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A company advertises a help wanted sign on April 9, 2021, in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Buoyed by a record tourist season, Alaska employers hired thousands more workers this year than they did during last year’s summer peak, but state employment remains stubbornly below what it was in 2019, figures from the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development show.

“We’re not there yet, and the reasons are a little murky,” said Dan Robinson, an economist with the department, which publishes employment figures monthly.

Alaska businesses and governments employed 344,100 people in August, a gain of 4,800 or 1.4% from the same month last year, the Department of Labor and Workforce Development said Friday.

The number of workers in Alaska peaks each year in July amid the state’s tourist season, driven by the cruise industry. This year’s season is expected to bring a record-high number of cruise ship tourists to the state.

Every month this year, employers have reported more workers than they did in the corresponding month last year, state figures show, but the figures are still below what they were before the COVID-19 pandemic emergency. In August 2019, for example, the state employed 352,200 people in nonfarm work. 

Most states, and the nation overall, have fully recovered from pandemic-caused dips in employment.

“We’re something like 2% below, and that’s unusual among states, and it’s different from the nation. The nation has long since recovered,” Robinson said.

Alaska’s economy is typically countercyclical to the Lower 48 — when other states do poorly, Alaska does well, and vice versa. That’s in part because of the state’s reliance on resource development.

“Oil would be part of it,” Robinson said.

In August 2019, the state had 10,100 people directly employed in oil and gas work. In August this year, there were 7,400 oil and gas workers.

Robinson said fiscal uncertainty with the state budget is likely another contributing factor, as are migration trends. For the past decade, the number of people moving out of Alaska has exceeded the number of people moving in.