Alaska loses jobs for 5th straight month

STEADY DECLINE: Oil industry is one of few areas not yet suffering.

October 16, 2009 

The Alaska economy continued to lose jobs last month, the fifth straight month of job losses and a clearer sign that a mild recession has gripped the state.

Employers statewide had an estimated 335,000 jobs on their payrolls in September. That's 2,000 fewer than during September of last year, according to new numbers Friday from the Alaska Department of Labor.

Economists consider the number of payroll jobs -- whether it's rising or falling -- to be the best indicator of what is happening in Alaska's economy. The number has fallen every month starting in May, according to the department. The 2,000 fewer jobs in September compared with a year ago represents a decline of 0.6 percent, a blip compared with the national payroll-job loss of about 4 percent during that span.

The severe Lower 48 recession has definitely spilled over into Alaska, as the state saw fewer visitors during the tourist season that just ended.

Hotel employment is down, as is airline and some retail employment, the department's figures show.

Other contraction has occurred as Lower 48-based businesses with operations in Alaska have imposed cuts companywide thanks to the national recession.

The oil industry is still enjoying relatively high prices for crude oil, but the prices are far below the record heights reached for most of last year. Oil and gas jobs in Alaska had grown strongly with oil prices for several years, then flattened out about a year ago. The preliminary numbers for September show this industry lost about 300 jobs, or about 2 percent, in the past year.

The only private-sector industry that grew in September compared with a year earlier was health care, up 1,000 jobs, or about 4 percent.

Alaska's biggest employer -- government -- also was up, about 700 jobs, or just under 1 percent.

The state's unemployment rate rose in September, to 8.4 percent of the work force on a seasonally adjusted basis.

That's up from 8.1 percent in August and it compares with 6.7 percent in September last year, the Labor Department said.

The Alaska rate has been essentially flat for most of this year. The department estimates about 28,000 workers in Alaska were without jobs but looking last month.

The U.S. jobless rate in September was 9.8 percent -- continuing to hover above Alaska's, an historically rare trend that has persisted most of this year.

The Anchorage unemployment rate was 7 percent in September, compared with 6.4 percent a month earlier and 5.3 percent a year earlier, the department said. About 14,000 jobless people in Anchorage were looking for work last month.

The Mat-Su unemployment rate also was up, at 8.8 percent last month compared with 6.8 percent a year earlier.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough rate was 9.7 percent in September, up from 7.2 percent a year earlier.

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