Anchorage’s declining population creates strains on local economy

Anchorage's declining population creates strains on local economy
Published: Jan. 18, 2022 at 7:30 AM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Help wanted signs continue to flood store windows as the ever-growing demand for employees rises in Alaska.

“We’re talking to a lot of employers who’ve got five, 10, 20, 30, sometimes 50 or 60 jobs going unfilled for lack of qualified candidates,” said Bill Popp, the CEO and President of Anchorage Economic Development Corp.

Popp said the corporation doesn’t have empirical data on the current state of Anchorage’s job market, but that the struggle to fill positions is an anecdotal story being heard from employers.

The corporation says this is a problem that they expect to carry on into the upcoming years due to Anchorage’s dropping population size. According to the most recent population estimate, the state gained 932 people from April 2020 to July 2021. However, Anchorage saw a decreasing number of residents.

“Which overtime costs us energy, puts us in a situation of a short workforce,” Popp said. “And is basically not the direction that we want to see things going.”

This past year, according to the report, Anchorage lost a total of 1,550 residents from April 2020 to July 2021, eliminating part of the adult working-age population in the city. Anchorage has been decreasing in population, Popp said, since 2016.

“We want to see population going up,” Popp said. “We want to see more economic activity resulting from that increased population. And so we are a little bit concerned about these numbers.”

Since the start of the last decade, Popp said the city has lost more than 13,000 of its adult working-age population. He said many Anchorage residents between the ages of 18 and 30, and 40 to 64 are moving down to the Lower 48.

“That’s a loss of talent, that’s a loss of economic activity,” Popp said. “And that’s a loss of energy in our economy.”

This, Popp said, leaves behind a tough job market. He said this is seen now with restaurants having to have limited hours or shut down their businesses, and the declining population is exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic causing workers to call out sick more than before.

“A tight labor market means overtime for those who are working, it means tougher schedules for employees but it also means limited hours,” Popp said. “We’re seeing that in restaurants right now with the COVID surge, where they just can’t staff the restaurants all seven days of the week, all hours of the day that they normally would.”

Additionally, since 2010, the average age of residents in Anchorage has increased to over 35 years old, and Popp said they are seeing senior citizen rates increase by thousands. According to Popp, this creates a problem that will take years to fix.

“I think it portends to be a very tight labor market in 2022, ‘23, and potentially in the out years beyond that,” Popp said.

Popp said, to fix the situation, the city needs to look at what is keeping residents from sitting on the sideline in the job market and continue to encourage people to move to Alaska.

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