JUNEAU (AP) -- About 4.2 percent of Alaska's residents were employed by the state in March 2000, making the last frontier nearly first in government workers, Census figures show.
Alaska was behind only Hawaii -- with 5.5 percent of its population employed by state government -- which was Number 1, U.S. Census figures show. Delaware was third at 3.6 percent
''That's probably not so surprising because were such a small state population-wise and were so huge geographically,'' said Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau.
With few humans inhabiting the vast landscape of Alaska, state government is relied on for many services that would be handled in the Lower 48 by counties, townships, parishes and boroughs.
The U.S. Census Bureau reported that 26,338 of Alaska's 626,932 residents were employed by state government in March 2000. That includes the judicial and legislative branches, and the University of Alaska.
Alaska has 1.1 people per square mile, compared to a national average of 79.6.
Jim Duncan, the state commissioner of administration, said a weak private sector helps boost the state government profile.
''We just don't have the diversified economy other states have,'' said Duncan. ''There's just not a lot of employment in this state.''
Alaska also has a low percentage of people 65 years and older -- 5.7 percent compared to a national average of 12.4 percent.
With fewer retirees, the percentage of people working would be boosted.
Alaska also provides some services other states do not, either because local governments handle them or there isn't the need, Duncan said.
The Alaska Marine Highway System isn't unique -- Washington state runs ferries, for example -- but it is not an ordinary function of state government.
In Alaska, the state runs the entire court system. While there are borough governments, they don't have law enforcement and social services functions, as county governments do in the Lower 48.
Welfare and other public assistance programs are administered solely by the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.
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