Higher U.S. unemployment rate may send jobseekers north

Posted: Sunday, September 09, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- A 4.9 percent national unemployment rate has state economist Neal Fried and other business trend-watchers wondering if job seekers will be heading north.

The unemployment rate announced Friday was higher than Fried had anticipated. If the numbers lead to an influx of jobseekers from Outside, Fried told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, it would translate to a competitive Alaska job market.

''It's been a pretty darn good job market in the last few years. Fewer people were coming,'' said Fried. ''That all could be changing.''

Alaska has prospects that could bring people north and also cause people who were thinking about leaving to stay, Fried said. Economists say the state economy is rosy, and some major employers say that's often the best reason for people to move here.

''For years I never got a call saying 'Hey, you got any jobs up there?''' Fried said. ''In the last several months I've been getting calls.''

National discussions of opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to exploration drilling, the building of an Alaska natural gas line, or the possible construction of a National Missile Defense System project is enough to cause some people to head to where they think the action is, Fried said.

''It just reminds people that we are here,'' he said. Even if those projects do not occur, Fried said, people could start arriving anyway.

Such an influx, coupled with a decision by Alaskans not to leave, could make for a tighter job market, Fried said.

Caroline Chapman, human resources director at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said one of the university's goals is to anticipate trends. An increase in jobseekers appears to be one, she said.

''We have received a lot of unsolicited inquiries about the possibility of job openings in various departments,'' she said.

Fairbanks' July unemployment number stood at 4.5 percent. The statewide rate was 5 percent.

Alaska has at times enjoyed an economic phenomenon known as cyclical reversal. When Alaska's financial health is excellent, the Lower 48's is not, and vice versa. But it's more a trend than a rule, Fried said.



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