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Business/Economy

Alaska’s median income ticked up last year; income inequality went down

  • Author: Annie Zak
  • Updated: September 14, 2017
  • Published September 14, 2017

Alaska was one of just two states where income inequality decreased between 2015 and 2016, the U.S. Census Bureau said this week.

The median household income in Alaska also rose from $73,355 to $76,440, not adjusted for inflation over that time period, according to new Census data. However, that wasn't a big enough jump to be statistically significant, said state demographer Eddie Hunsinger. In 2006, Alaska's median household income was $59,393, also not adjusted for inflation, the data show.

Hunsinger said the same about the slight dip in the number of people living below the poverty line here. The percentage of Alaskans living below the poverty line dropped ever so slightly between 2015 and 2016, from 10.3 percent to 9.9 percent. Poverty rates also declined in 23 other states.

The positive economic indicators come amid Alaska's recession, which began around the end of 2015. State economist Neal Fried suggested exercising some wariness about the numbers.

"I think you just have to be careful; that can be over-interpreted," Fried said. "Because it's just, it's not jiving with other indicators."

In 2016, Alaska saw its first year with a net jobs loss since 2009. In January, the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development predicted that 2017 would be even worse. Layoffs, especially in the oil and gas sector, have sent ripples across the economy.

The state's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate has been slowly ticking up for months. In July, that rate was the highest in the country at 7 percent.

The new data released by the Census Bureau show that 30 states had an increase in median household income between 2015 and 2016, after adjusting for inflation.

Alaska stood out as one of just two states where income inequality decreased in 2016, the Census Bureau said Thursday, the other being Massachusetts. Most states had no statistical change in income inequality, according to the bureau, though it increased in Louisiana, Wisconsin and West Virginia.

Fried wasn't sure what might have caused that income inequality gap to close more here, but he added that Alaska has always fared well on that measurement.

"That doesn't surprise me that much," he said. "For income inequality, we've always been No. 1, 2 or 3 on the least income inequality."

Median income in Anchorage spiked from $78,662 in 2015 to $85,634 last year, not inflation-adjusted, and went up in Fairbanks from $72,975 to $77,328. But Fried said those one-year estimates aren't as reliable as five-year census data, the most recent of which is for 2015.

Reports from the state labor department contradict the numbers from the Census Bureau that show earnings going up. In 2016, state numbers show, average monthly wages in Alaska were $4,430, down from $4,516 the year prior.

Nationwide, the median household income rose 3.2 percent between 2015 and 2016 to $59,039 for all races, adjusted for inflation, according to the Census Bureau. For whites, the median household income last year was $65,041, for Asians it was $81,431, for Hispanics it was $47,675, and for African-Americans it was $39,490.

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