Legislators Investigate North Slope Employment Report Discrepancy

Tuesday, legislators began looking at the discrepancy between Department of Labor reports of high employment on the North Slope and high unemployment among Alaskans qualified to work there.

Kara Moriarty, the Deputy Director of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, an industry support group, presented the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee with an early release of a study done by the McDowell Group indicating there had been little change in the ratio between resident and non-resident employees. She said the study shows that jobs usually rise and fall together. However, she pointed to numbers indicating the state’s entire economy relies on non-resident employees.

“Statewide, 22 percent of the private workforce was defined as non-resident in 2009.  Sectors with higher non-resident participation include seafood processing, scenic and sightseeing transportation, accommodation and metal-mining.  Non-resident hire is part of what allows the Alaska economy to grow, which in turn generates greater opportunities for residents,” Moriarty said.

The McDowell Group that prepared the Association’s study is now working on a more-detailed study of the North Slope workforce for the Senate Finance Committee.

Fairbanks Senator Joe Thomas cited the classification of a resident as a person who qualifies for a Permanent Fund Dividend.  He said that allows a non-resident to accept a job in Alaska and – in future years – to be qualified as a resident.

“It seems to me that is the crux of the problem.  What are we not doing to create the skill-set that would allow residents to be hired rather than. Because theoretically if you carry that out, we could at some point in time have a hundred percent of the people working on the North Slope that were at one time non-residents, and none of them, prior to receiving their jobs, had been an Alaska resident,” Thomas said.

The committee will hear from the public tonight in Fairbanks and will hold another set of hearings in Anchorage on Thursday. Governor Parnell has used low employment as a reason for promoting tax cuts to the oil industry. That issue will be back before the legislature in next year’s session.

Parnell, Tuesday afternoon, send an e-mail message to his supporters reminding them of his position on the issue and asked them to participate in the committee hearings.

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