Alaska unemployment falls, but jobless levels remain historically high

Alaska’s economy is getting slightly better as the COVID-19 pandemic staggers on, with August jobless numbers improving a bit from July, the state’s labor agency reported on Friday.

Still, it will be a long time before the state fully recovers, economists say.

In August, Alaska counted 37,000 fewer jobs than in the same month a year earlier, a 10.5% drop in the workforce, according to the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

That’s a little better than July, when the economy lost 39,900 jobs from July 2019, about an 11.2% drop.

Statewide, businesses are slowly reopening and getting back to full service, following restrictions that began in March, said Dan Robinson, research chief at the agency.

Still, the number of people collecting jobless benefits remains staggeringly high, at more than 43,000 people in Alaska in the last week of August.

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That’s almost 10 times higher than a year earlier, said Lennon Weller, a state labor economist.

But it’s an improvement from the more than 65,000 Alaskans who collected jobless benefits in June.

The state traditionally has relied on the unemployment rate to track the workforce.

But that is currently a less useful measure than in the past, in part because it depends on a household survey that has been harder to conduct since the pandemic hit, Robinson said.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for August is measured at 7.4%, down from 11.6% in July.

The unemployment rate currently paints a cloudier picture of the Alaska economy than the year-over-year job numbers and jobless claims, Robinson said.

The statewide economy could continue to show slight improvement in the coming months, as the summer tourism industry that was hard hit by canceled summer cruise ships should have less of an impact on job numbers in fall, he said.

A recently released economic forecast for Anchorage said the municipality’s economy will not recover from the pandemic even within three years, as personal income, consumer spending and unemployment struggle to recover from the effects of business restrictions and changing consumer habits.

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Alex DeMarban

Alex DeMarban is a longtime Alaska journalist who covers business, the oil and gas industries and general assignments. Reach him at 907-257-4317 or