Business/Economy

Unemployment levels in Alaska remain stubbornly high as new COVID-19 restrictions take effect in Anchorage

The number of people receiving unemployment checks in Alaska rose above 40,000 for the first time in six weeks, signaling continued pain in the economy as COVID-19 cases surge and Congress considers another pandemic relief package.

About 40,800 people received unemployment aid in mid-November — about 1,000 more than in each of the previous six weeks — as the pandemic continues to hammer businesses.

The increase follows a national trend that has seen initial jobless claims rise in recent weeks alongside rising cases of the virus.

The increase in Alaska came ahead of a modified, monthlong “hunker-down” in Anchorage that began on Tuesday, closing indoor service at restaurants and bars for the third time during the pandemic while also tightening in-person customer limits at other businesses.

It’s highly likely that the new order in Anchorage will lead to increased unemployment claims, said Lennon Weller, an economist with the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development. A seasonal effect might also be occurring in the latest numbers, as summer and fall work in sectors such as construction dropped off.

Overall, Weller said, “The labor market has ceased to improve for several weeks.”

The number of people receiving unemployment checks has dropped from the weekly highs around 65,000 seen in May and June. But the numbers, representing about 13% of the workforce, remain well above normal levels.

The Alaska trust fund for unemployment benefits has dropped to $321 million, from about $500 million at this time last year, Weller said.

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said on Tuesday that she has joined other lawmakers in a bipartisan push to provide $900 billion in additional aid to combat the effects of the pandemic. The proposal is designed as a follow-up to the $2 trillion CARES Act passed in April, which has largely run out amid a bipartisan impasse over additional aid.

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 alex@adn.com.

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