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Alaskans spend more money than most Americans -- and here's how they spend it

Compared to the rest of the nation, Alaskans are pretty big spenders, according to a state Department of Labor and Workforce Development report released Tuesday.

Alaska ranks fourth in the nation for personal consumption, spending an average of $46,229 per person on goods and services in 2014.

Why?

The ranking likely has more to do with the relatively high price of goods and services and robust personal income levels — sixth-highest in the nation as of 2015.

"Big spending is partly due to how expensive things are in Alaska, but it's also because we tend to have more to spend," said state labor economist Neal Fried, who based the report on data released by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis in December. It's the first time the federal government has released state-level data on personal consumption.

Alaskans may be exceptional in many ways, but collectively are fairly humdrum when it comes to how they spend.

"Alaska consumers don't spend much differently from the rest of the nation, which may seem surprising, as we're often outliers in other economic indicators," Fried said.

About 16 percent — or $7,591 per person — of Alaskans' spending went to housing and utilities in 2014. Nationwide, 18 percent of each person's total spending went to housing and utilities. Mirroring national figures, 7 percent of Alaskans' spending went to food services and accommodations, another 7 percent went to financial services and insurance and 2 percent went to furnishings and durable household equipment, such as stoves and furnaces.

In one category, Alaska does stand out: Health care costs in the 49th state dwarf the rest of the country's. Personal spending on health care was $9,303 per Alaskan, or 20 percent of each person's annual spending, while the U.S. average was $6,128 or 16 percent. (As noted this week this week by ADN columnist Charles Wohlforth, the rise of the health care industry creates high-paying jobs, but also imposes a huge burden on governments, businesses and individuals.)

Notably, the data show the growth rate for Alaska's consumption fell below the nation's in 2014 for the first time in the 15-year series (see graphic). To be clear, consumer spending still grew, it just grew more slowly than the rest of the U.S.

Fried credited a strong bounceback in spending nationwide rather than any weakness in Alaska's consumer market. He said Alaska's economy in 2014 was not yet showing the effects of low commodity prices or a state budget deficit.

"We're not going to beat the country every year in everything," Fried said. "It's a pretty long period of time to outdo the country. I don't think it's surprising."

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