Dire state economy forecasted by recent statistics on outmigration and Alaska’s workforce
Testimony presented before state lawmakers cited the long shadow cast by heavy reliance on oil
JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - The Senate Finance committee hosted testimony from Dan Robinson, the Director of the Research and Analysis Section in the Department of Labor & Workforce Development and from Dr. Brett Watson, faculty at the University of Alaska-Anchorage, and a researcher at the Institute of Social and Economic Research.
Both Robinson’s presentation and Watson’s presentation offered a chance for lawmakers to better understand the numbers and data behind Alaska’s workforce and outmigration problems.
Alaska’s economy experienced uncertainty and volatility since the early 2000s, and now the 2020s are shaping up to be the first major bend in what could be a protracted “bust” after oil booms earlier in the 20th century.
Robinson cited net negative in-migration as the chief obstacle to Alaska’s economic health. Outmigration has remained relatively consistent over the last several decades, Robinson testified, but new people no longer move to Alaska at a rate matching previous decades, and enough to meet the demand for workers.
This does not include college-aged Alaskans; as Robinson testified, that age demographic consistently reflects that residents in their late teens and early 20s opt to attend college outside of the state.
“Oil used to be enough to pay our bills,” Robinson stated, a sentiment reiterated by Watson who elaborated on the “three legs” of Alaska’s economy: oil, federal government spending, and other export industries such as tourism, mining, fishing, and air cargo.
Alaska’s state gross domestic product currently ranks 49th out of the 50 states according to recent measurements from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.
Much of the testimony centered on Alaska’s GDP, the measure of the value of the goods and services produced in Alaska. The state GDP percent change is among the worst in the nation, ranked in the bottom five along with other pockets of oil and coal-based economies: North Dakota, West Virginia, Louisiana, and Wyoming. The top five states are Utah, Washington, Idaho, California, and Colorado.
Another statistic painting a bleak picture for Alaska was its 50th-place rank in the nation for job growth over the course of the last decade, during 2013-2022. The preceding four states when ranked by this metric, in descending order, are Louisiana, Hawaii, Wyoming, North Dakota, and West Virginia.
Utah led the nation in job growth with a 30.1% increase, in contrast to the 5% decrease reported in Alaska. The U.S. average hovered around 12%.
Alaska’s climate, and lack of “white collar” opportunities in comparison to other states, also arose in the hearing testimony as factors for young professionals to leave the state, or look elsewhere for employment altogether.
In the middle of the morning hearing, Sen. David Wilson of Wasilla voiced concern about the status of Alaska’s workforce in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic-induced shortfalls, and how other states seem to recover more steadily and speedily.
According to Robinson, “What all of these states — I’m looking to make sure this is true — have that Alaska doesn’t and we’ll talk about this a little bit more, is positive migration,” he said, elaborating that, “All of these states are struggling to a degree, we’re struggling more because we’re losing some of our people, and particular, of working age.”
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