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Alaska predicted to gain jobs, barely, in 2014

Suzanna Caldwell
While government jobs will decline in 2014, other sectors will help keep Alaska employment flat overall. Courtesy MEA

Alaska jobs are expected to see growth over the next year, just barely.

According to the latest Alaska Economic Trends report, the job-growth forecast in Alaska is expected to be up slightly in 2014, by a very modest 0.4 percent.

The cause? While private sector job growth is increasing, government jobs are decreasing at both the federal and state levels.

Alaska is expected to lose 900 government jobs in 2014, some 600 of which are expected at the federal level -- the fourth consecutive year of decline. The report says to expect modest declines at local government levels as well, mostly through the municipality of Anchorage and Anchorage School District. The report says while other communities around the state will see job growth, that growth will be overwhelmed by declines in Anchorage.

Most of that decline is coming from a decrease in federal dollars -- in part due to tighter spending from Washington, D.C.  lawmakers and federal sequestration.

The relative stagnation of job growth shouldn't be alarming to Alaskans, according to state economist Neal Fried. He said Alaska was relatively insulated from the economic recession and, as a result, hasn't needed to recover jobs like states that were hit harder in 2008. He said most western states have seen steady growth, but still haven't reached their pre-recession job numbers.

And even though the growth might be only slight, Alaska can still say it has more jobs than it ever has before, Fried said.

“It's a different narrative than most of the rest of the country,” he said.

Last week, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics came out with its look at seasonally adjusted jobs in Alaska, showing a loss of 3,300 jobs in 2013. State economists point out those numbers are an estimate and therefore subject to change.

Health care, lodging and energy jobs are all expected to be up over the next year, negating the federal and local government job losses. The report notes that with oil and mineral prices high -- though not at their peaks -- companies will continue to invest.

The oil industry is expected to drive much of the growth, with 500 jobs expected to be added in the next year. The report notes that oil companies have announced plans to increase activity in the near future following the passage of Alaska's new oil tax law, though the report says most of those job numbers won't show up in 2014.

State economist Caroline Schultz said that's because the increase in jobs will come as more projects come online, and that process is a slow one. While there might be some growth from the change in tax structure starting at the end of 2014, it's expected to be modest.

“Realistically, we don't think it will make a big splash in the next 12 months,” she said.

The law -- known as the More Alaska Production Act -- went into effect Jan. 1.

Contact Suzanna Caldwell at suzanna(at)alaskadispatch.com. Follow her on Twitter @suzannacaldwell

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