Alaska’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell two-tenths of a percent in January, to 7.2 percent, according to figures released by the state Labor Department Tuesday.
State Economist Neal Fried says Alaska’s economy will always be seasonally-dependent. January’s non-adjusted unemployment rate was 8.1 percent – up from 7.6 percent in December – and most areas are seeing the usual drop in winter hiring. But Fried says the seasonal adjustment, which takes into account historical averages, shows the state is doing quite well.
“We all know that in Alaska the job market is considerably softer during the winter months, and continues to usually shed jobs through at least February of each year,” Fried says. “So you use those historical trends to help adjust for seasonality.”
The highest unemployment rate in the state in January was 28.4 percent in Skagway, which is heavily dependent on tourism jobs. The North Slope Borough had the lowest rate at 5.1 percent. Juneau’s rate was just a notch higher at 5.4 percent.
Fried says some areas saw unemployment rates decrease in January. For example, more people were working in Kodiak and parts of the Aleutian Islands, with the start of winter fisheries.
“A new season for pollock, cod, crab, and mackerel is much smaller. But there were a few places where the unemployment rate didn’t only drop, it dropped quite a bit,” Fried says. “I mean, you look at Aleutians East Borough, it went from 25.6 percent to 11.8 percent all in one month, that’s pretty dramatic.”
Alaska’s statewide unemployment rate remained lower than the national average for the 38th consecutive month. The national rate was also down two-tenths of a percent in January, to 8.3 percent.
Fried says the steady decline in national unemployment may help job seekers in Alaska.
“What it could mean is that fewer people are coming here to compete for those jobs, and it could also mean that a few more people leave,” Fried says. “People are constantly moving in and out of Alaska, we get tremendous flows each year. So, what happens in the rest of the country, independent of our economy, does affect opportunities in Alaska.
The Labor Department usually releases the unemployment figures on the third Friday of every month. Fried says the January numbers take longer to allow for additional year-start calculations. The February numbers will come out as scheduled on March 23rd.