Alaska News

Alaska population up in 2016, even as people continued to move away

Alaska's population grew slightly in 2016, despite more people moving out of the state than moving in for the fourth year in a row, according to new estimates released Thursday.

The state's population was an estimated 739,828 in 2016, according to the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development. That's an increase of about one-third of 1 percent from July 2015 to July 2016. A natural increase statewide — nearly 7,000 more people were born than died during that time period — offset the state's losing about 4,300 people to out-migration.

Overall, according to the new population estimates, Alaska added 2,645 Alaskans to its headcount last year.

"It does stand out as a significant fourth year in a row of meaningful negative net migration," said state demographer Eddie Hunsinger, with the Labor Department.

[Alaska's population was flattening even before it began shedding jobs]

Alaska's working-age population — people from 18 to 64 — dropped by 2,774 last year, and the population 65 and older grew by 4,221, the department said.

A long-term population projection released by the state last year said the 65-and-older demographic is expected to be the fastest-growing over the next 30 years.


"The 65-and-up population continues to increase in population and we expect to continue to see that for the next 10 years," said Hunsinger. "A big part of that is just aging rather than net migration."

Economic turmoil or prosperity in Alaska and the rest of the country is just one piece of the population equation.

"Historically, fewer people leave Alaska during a national recession and more move north seeking job opportunities," according to an economic trends report from the labor department in 2015. "The reverse is also true; when the national economy is flourishing and Alaska has a downturn, Alaska is more likely to register net migration losses."

Between 2009 and 2010, for example, when the overall U.S. economy was hurting, nearly 8,600 more people moved to Alaska than moved away.

Neal Fried, a state economist with the labor department, said he was surprised that even more people didn't move out of the state from 2015 to 2016.

"But the trend is not surprising whatsoever. We've seen it repeat itself over and over again," he said. "Of course, we can't separate the two, tease out which part is tied to the economy and which part is tied to just typical migration patterns. Both, I think, are certainly there."

The national unemployment rate has been under 5 percent for months, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The economy is "red-hot" elsewhere, Fried said, on top of job losses in Alaska that are projected to get worse.

[2016 was bad for the Alaska job market. 2017 might be worse.]

Regional standouts in Thursday's numbers were the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, which grew the most as it added 2,646 people, and Juneau (both city and borough), which lost the most people, at 398.

The City and Borough of Yakutat lost an estimated 16 people. Because the population there is so small, it had the biggest regional drop in its average annual growth rate, with a decline of about 2.7 percent.

Anchorage's population was still just below 300,000, based on the estimates — it topped that mark in 2013 and 2014. While 2,576 people moved out of Anchorage between July 2015 and July 2016, the natural increase meant the city added 323 people overall. That brought the population to 299,037.

Annie Zak

Annie Zak was a business reporter for the ADN between 2015 and 2019.