Alaska's total wages were up in the first part of this year, even as job losses continued in the state's recession.
Wages grew by $69 million, or 1.6 percent, in the first quarter of 2018 compared to that period in 2017, the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development said in a new economic report. Employment was down 0.6 percent during that time.
Usually, though not always, wages and job numbers move in the same direction, the labor department said. There are several factors behind the divergence, "but primarily the industry mix of the losses and gains," the report said, pointing to growth in higher-paying jobs that can make up for lost wages in lower-paying fields and positions.
Health care, for instance, was one of the few sectors to gain jobs in the first part of the year, and those jobs pay far more than positions in retail, which lost jobs, the report said.
In the oil and gas sector, wages were up 4.7 percent while employment was down about 8 percent, according to labor department data.
Wages also went up slightly in the fourth quarter of 2017, by 0.4 percent, alongside a job decline.
"While two quarters of overall wage growth is an encouraging sign, it doesn't necessarily signal economic recovery because the state continued to lose jobs over that same period," the report said.
Bonuses and incentive pay — which typically happen in the fourth quarter or first quarter each year — could also be part of why wages didn't correlate with employment earlier this year, the labor department said.
Total wages went up in almost every part of the state in the first quarter. The exceptions were the North Slope Borough, Aleutians East Borough, Aleutians West Census Area, and the City and Borough of Yakutat.
In Anchorage, wages were up 1.7 percent while jobs were down. Wages grew 1.5 percent in the Fairbanks North Star Borough, which added jobs. Employment was basically unchanged in the Kenai Peninsula Borough in the first part of 2018 from that time in 2017, but wages there were up 2.6 percent.
Alaska has lost more than 10,000 jobs so far in the recession, according to the labor department. The downturn started in late 2015.