Skip to main Content

Alaska unemployment second-highest in nation amid statewide recession

  • Author: Chris Klint
  • Updated: March 24, 2017
  • Published March 24, 2017

Alaska's unemployment rate in February was the second-highest in the nation as the state is wracked by a deepening recession.

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics listed Alaska's February unemployment rate at 6.4 percent, ahead of only New Mexico's 6.8 percent among U.S. states and the District of Columbia. The national unemployment rate for February was 4.7 percent.

Among the hardest-hit sectors of Alaska's economy, according to a breakdown released Friday by the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development, were oil and gas as well as mining and logging. Those sectors lost 2,500 and 2,900 jobs year-on-year respectively, for a decline of 19.7 percent and 18.7 percent from their employment figures in February 2016.

Other significant year-on-year employment reductions included Alaska's construction industry, down 7.1 percent; state government, down 4.3 percent; and professional and business services, down 3.6 percent.

Regionally, the 6,500 year-on-year job losses were concentrated in Anchorage and northern Alaska, which lost 3,000 and 2,500 positions respectively.

Since October 2015, state data for each month through September 2016 and subsequent projections have shown Alaska employment in decline, falling to a low of about a 2.5 percent decline from the rate the previous year.

Year-on-year changes in Alaska’s monthly unemployment rates since 2015. (Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development)

Alaska economists formally declared a statewide recession in December due to plummeting oil prices, at the end of a year that saw monthly job-loss rates double from January to June. Since then, employers in associated fields have cut back on hiring as private economists project a three-year recession that would contract the state's economy in the longer term.

Neal Fried, an economist with the department, said the new numbers reflected both the continuing decline in hiring and relatively high seasonal unemployment rates across much of the state. Both factors typically lead Alaska to have a higher unemployment rate, especially at this time of year.

"We're in a recession, obviously; the rest of the country is not," Fried said. "There are four or five states that are in a recession, most of them energy-related states."

Alaska had lower unemployment rates than the national average from the outset of the 2008 U.S. recession and into 2013, Fried said, but the numbers have since returned to their pre-recession trend.

Alaska’s unemployment numbers versus the U.S. average, from 2005 through early 2017. (Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development)

"We're significantly above the rest of the country, which is not an unusual place for Alaska to be," Fried said. "Most of the rest of the country, unemployment is very low; the job market is very hot."

Local news matters.

Support independent, local journalism in Alaska.