Ask an Economist: New year brings new direction for Alaska job numbers

Economists in Alaska forecasted 2019 would be the year the state turns a corner, gaining jobs, after years of recession.

And so far, the first two months of the year have followed that prediction. Neal Fried, an economist with the Alaska Department of Labor, says the gains are small, but significant.

Interview Highlights: 

Employment growth: “In January, for the first time in basically three years, our employment numbers turned positive… In January of 2019, we were a little higher, just a tad bit higher, than we were in 2018… and that happened again in February.”

Small gains: “They’re very modest increases. One of the months is .10%. And the other is like .30%. And if you translate that into job numbers, it’s 100-300. And out of a total of over 300,000 it’s modest, but the direction is significant.”

Are we emerging from recession yet?: “Since we define a recession as three quarters of job losses, why not just turn that around and say three quarters of job gains and then we’ll be pretty assured that we’re sort of coming out of the woods in a more solid way… also to an extent of how strong those gains are, or become.”

Tracking with forecasts: “We did say, and everyone else said that we would probably come out of this recession in 2019. We weren’t sure when in 2019, and voila, the year begins and it appears we’re moving in that direction. But you know, we were already sort of moving in that direction in 2018. As we got further and further into the year, the losses got smaller and smaller. And that’s sort of what basically happened here. The losses got small enough and the gains got big enough, that we turned positive.”

How the state budget factors in: “The budget is an important part of our economy. And depending on what happens to that, there’s no doubt it will have some effect on those numbers. The question is, would those be large enough to change the direction of these numbers if they continue to be positive.”

If you have a question you want answered about Alaska’s economy, send us an email at news@alaskapublic.org.