August was the 23rd consecutive month of job losses in Alaska, according to the Alaska Department of Labor. Employment opportunities slid another 1.4 percent from a year ago, with the North Slope losing the most jobs year over year — 4.9 percent of the jobs in the far north evaporated. Those are oil patch jobs.
The economic tea leaves, from declining home prices to the meager number of new car imports, tell Alaskans that September will make 24 months in a row of tough job hunting conditions.
But Alaska’s downward slide may be close to the bottom. In the 1980s, during the last big Alaska recession, Alaska had 25 straight months of employment decline, according to the Department of Labor.
In August of 1986, however, unemployment reached an alarming 11 percent. In August of this year, unemployment was 7.2 percent. Nationwide, unemployment is a low 4.4 percent.
While Alaska continues to have the highest unemployment rate in the nation, North Dakota is the place to go for job seekers, with just 2.3 percent of the workforce unemployed.
The unemployment rate in Alaska is hard to gauge because many people leave the state for greener pastures when jobs are scarce, and they are not considered in the overall unemployment count.
In fact, between 2015 and 2016, more than 4,200 people left the state, according to the Labor report. Due to births, the population grew by .4 percent, but school enrollment has dropped or flattened. Population estimates for 2017 will be released in January.
In other economic indicators, personal bankruptcies in Alaska increased by 20 percent from August 2016 to August 2017. Initial filings for unemployment are down 20 percent year over year, to 4,603, according to the report, indicating the downward trend is leveling off.
While Alaska’s downward economic trends may be showing signs of leveling off, some economic and business observers caution against assuming the pattern of the late 1980s will repeat itself. There are many differences between then and now.
Business leaders in the telecommunications, transportation and resource development sectors point to the massive state fiscal gap we are facing today, which policymakers have been unable to close. Combined with the steady drumbeat of new tax proposals coming out of the Walker Administration, new business investment in Alaska — hundreds of millions if not billions — remains on the sidelines until the fiscal environment stabilizes.