Alaska’s working-age population has seen historic drops

Alaska is seeing for the 9th consecutive year a decreasing working age population.
Published: Mar. 3, 2023 at 6:41 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Alaska is seeing a decreasing working-age population for the 9th consecutive year.

In the fiscal year 2013, the state saw its highest working-age population at 479,000. Over the past near-decade, it has dropped to 449,000, a 6% decrease. Alaska State Demographer Eric Sandberg said that this change is a first in Alaska’s history.

“Typically our working-age population has been constantly growing since about World Ward II,” Sandberg said.

The drop is driven primarily by a population that is aging out and a shift in net migration.

“Starting around 2012, 2013, baby boomers started, the front end of the generation started to pass the age of 65. So, that played a part in the shrinking,” Sandberg said. “About the same time as the baby boomers started to age out of the demographic, Alaska’s net migration turned negative.”

Sandberg also listed pandemic-related deaths as well in his report in the March 2023 Alaska Economic Trends. According to the report, between fiscal year 2021 and fiscal year 2022, working-age deaths were 40% and higher.

Yet, Sandberg notes the aging population and net migration, to have had the largest impact. The combination has been creating a double-whammy effect, impacting nearly every corner of the state.

“It’s going across the board into every aspect of our community. It’s why we have to wait so long to get a vehicle repaired or to get in and see our doctors. It’s why we are seeing key clinics closing down,” Anchorage Economic Development Corporation President and CEO Bill Popp said. “There are less people to fill the thousands of jobs that we are creating right now.”

According to Sandberg, a continuation of a dropping working-age population could result in both short-term and long-term economic consequences, ranging from lower consumer demand, labor shortage and impacting the state’s economic overall growth.

In order for the trend to break, an increase in net migration would need to take place. Popp said that the increase is a critical need for Alaska.

“We absolutely need more people moving to the state to fill the thousands of jobs that we can’t fill with the resident population,” Popp said.

In order to do that, both Popp and Sandberg shared that the state would need to make Alaska more attractive to younger people. That would include, according to Popp, improving Downtown Anchorage, improving and making housing more affordable, and improving education and infrastructure.

“That will all give people more confidence to move here,” Popp said.