Alaska job growth, driven by big projects, expected to put employment at pre-COVID levels

Alaska is expected gain 5,400 jobs in 2024, an increase of 1.7% over the past year and enough to nudge total state employment above 2019 levels for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, according to the newly published annual forecast from the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

The job outlook was published in the January issue of the department’s monthly research magazine, Alaska Economic Trends.

The “major catalyst” for job growth, the forecast said, will be big projects: federally funded infrastructure projects and mining and oil and gas development. That is a change from the past couple of years, in which job growth was largely attributed to recovery from the pandemic.

Sectors with the most growth are mining and logging, which are grouped together and include oil production, as well as construction. The mining and logging sector is expected to gain 1,000 jobs, an 8.7% increase over 2023. Within that sector are an expected 600 new oil and gas jobs, according to the forecast. Construction jobs are expected to increase by 1,100, 6.6% above 2023 totals, according to the forecast.

Sectors remaining flat include manufacturing, federal government employment and financial services, according to the forecast.

In all, 1,600 more jobs are expected in Alaska in 2024 than the total in 2019, the last full year before the pandemic. That amounts to a 0.5% increase in 2024 over the pre-pandemic total.

Changes since 2019 vary widely across economic sectors, the department reported.


Oil and gas jobs, despite the growth expected this year, are forecast to total 1,900 fewer in 2024 than in 2019, a 19.2% decrease, the forecast said. But the health care sector, with an expected 1,800 more jobs in 2024 than in 2019, has had significant growth, the forecast said.

There are also regional differences that are detailed in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Southeast job forecasts that accompany the larger statewide forecast issued by the department.

In Anchorage, expected job growth of 1.6% in 2024 will not be quite enough to bring employment back to 2019 levels, according to that forecast. There are mixed outlooks for different sectors. Economic activity generated by air cargo traffic is a bright spot, with the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport now ranking as the world’s third-busiest for cargo volume, and some trouble spots, like a continued long-term stagnation in financial and information services, according to the forecast.

In Fairbanks, the pandemic-created job losses were not as steep as for the state as a whole; the large role that the military and the University of Alaska play in the regional economy insulated the area somewhat from pandemic effects on employment. The job recovery in Fairbanks is likewise expected to be less dramatic, with 1.4% growth, according to the region-specific forecast.

In Southeast Alaska, tourism-related employment will continue to grow after a record year for cruise passengers to Alaska, and government employment is expected to remain steady. However, the region is expected to suffer some losses in seafood-processing jobs, according to the regional forecast.

Statewide, labor shortages are expected to temper job growth, according to the forecast. The dual effects of aging and outmigration mean there are fewer people available to take jobs and, in some cases, less demand for products and services, the forecast said.

[Alaska’s working-age population has declined since 2013 peak, and recovery appears dim]

The situation appears particularly stark in Anchorage, according to the department’s forecast for the city.

Anchorage has lost residents since its population peaked at 302,167 in 2013 and now has about 19,000 fewer working-age adults than it did a decade ago, the forecast noted. Those losses show up in school enrollment numbers, housing construction and other metrics, making the city’s long-term future “unclear,” the forecast said.

“One of the key questions is quality of life: Do people want to live there, raise families, invest in housing and the community, and make it their home?” the forecast said. “While a strong tourism year, increased oil field activity, and federal infrastructure and military projects will heat things up a bit in 2024, it will likely take more than that to turn around a long-lingering stagnation.”

Originally published by the Alaska Beacon, an independent, nonpartisan news organization that covers Alaska state government.

[Correction: The expected increase in health care jobs was for 2024, not 2014, the year included in the original version of this article.]