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Business/Economy

Alaska unemployment, among nation's highest, worsens slightly in April

Alaska's unemployment rate was the second-highest in the nation in April, following a slight rise from the state's figures for March.

April's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 6.6 percent, the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development said Friday.

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics showed Alaska's rate second among the states and the District of Columbia, better only than New Mexico's 6.7 percent — but markedly closer than the March spread between Alaska's 6.4 percent and New Mexico's 6.8 percent.

A graph shows year-on-year Alaska employment changes from January 2015 through April 2017. (Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development)
A graph shows year-on-year Alaska employment changes from January 2015 through April 2017. (Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development)

"Preliminary estimates show April employment was down by 6,600 jobs, or 2.0 percent, compared to April 2016," state officials wrote. "The biggest losses were in oil and gas, which was down by 1,800 jobs, a 15 percent drop. Construction employment was down by 1,300 (an 8.4 percent decline), state government was down by 1,500 jobs (-5.8 percent), and professional and business services jobs were down by 1,600 (-5.6 percent)."

Just three Alaska job sectors were up from last April's numbers: health care, with a 2.5 percent rise of 900 jobs; local government, with a 1.4 percent increase of 600 jobs; and leisure and hospitality, with a 1.3 increase of 400 jobs.

The latest Alaska figures arrived a day after a report of 232,000 people on U.S. unemployment rolls this week, the lowest count of unemployed in nearly 30 years, amid upbeat economic data and a domestic labor market nearing full employment.

Conor Bell, an economist with the labor department, said the increase to 6.6 percent for April's Alaska unemployment rate was "nothing outside of the norm."

Factors like varying employment in seasonal and rural Alaska jobs also tend to give the state higher unemployment rates than the national average – ranking either worst or second-worst nationwide for at least the past year.

April is a transitional month, Bell said, as projected continuing declines are countered by Alaska's typical summer economic upswing.

"We expect weakness coming from local spending lessening in the economy," Bell said. "But it should be balanced out by stronger summer hiring, because we're still seeing these stronger tourism seasons."

Regionally, April's highest unemployment rate was in Western Alaska's Kusilvak census area at 19.9 percent. The lowest — 2.3 percent — was in the Aleutians East Borough, which state labor officials said was being "buoyed by spring fisheries."

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