Fish folks top list of jobs

Processors were biggest borough occupation in 2001

Posted: Tuesday, October 01, 2002

If you were sliming salmon, halving halibut or filleting other kinds of fish here in the Kenai Peninsula Borough in 2001, you were working in the single largest occupational group in the borough, according to the Alaska Depart-ment of Labor.

An article in the October issue of Alaska Economic Trends, published by the department, says in 2001, the latest complete-year data available, there were about 1,985 seafood processing workers in the borough, excluding those working surimi and fish roe jobs.

The number may overstate employment in that occupation because some of those workers may have held more than one processing job in 2001, the department said.

Seafood workers' wages contributed some $6.1 million to the economy that year.

Retail salespersons were the next largest group with 1,346 jobs making some $9.7 million annually, while food preparers and servers in fast-food restaurants and delicatessens and the like came in third at 1,225 workers who made another $2.9 million. Waiters and waitresses -- an entirely separate category -- filled some 1,026 jobs and made $3.6 million in 2001.

Teachers, instructors and substitutes made up another 962 jobs in the borough, most employed in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District or other public educational facilities. The category also includes some private-sector educational jobs.

No equivalent wage figure was released for the category, however. According to department economist Lorraine Cordova, the department has followed "a general rule" not to release a wage figure where more than half the workers are employed by the same employer. Cordova said there was no specific regulation against issuing a figure.

While the categories above comprised the five top occupations in 2001 in terms of numbers of workers, they were by no means near the top when it came to total wages. For instance, according to Melody Douglas, chief financial officer for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, in terms of wages, the district's 681 certified teachers earned a combined $33 million in 2001.

Further, as a single employer, the district has the most workers. Douglas said the district generates about 1,800 W-2 tax forms a year. That figure includes all full- and part-time employees.

Some 648 roustabouts working in area oil fields earned better than $13.3 million in 2001. Operational engineers and other construction equipment operators -- of which there were about 509 -- earned $9.4 million that year, while another 413 welders, cutters, solderers and brazers together made $8.6 million, and 404 maintenance and repair workers made $9.4 million.

The statistics cited in Alaska Economic Trends are part of the state's Occupational Data Base. Compiling of that kind of data began in the boom years of the 1970s during construction of the trans-Alaska pipeline, according to the article by Cordova and fellow labor economist Nels Tomlinson.

In those years, many people came from Outside and took many high-wage jobs, even though there were many unemployed Alaskans, the article said.

Later, as other construction projects were funded with oil money, the Alaska Legislature asked the department to enforce resident hire and begin collecting data in support of that effort, the article said.

"The goal was to increase resident hire, reduce unemployment, identify industries and occupations with large numbers of nonresident workers, and find resident workers that have skills required for publicly funded projects," the authors said.

Today, the database includes employment information for every worker covered by state unemployment insurance. Some 18,000 employers make reports quarterly. The database provides answers to a variety of labor market questions, the article said.

These include such things as: What percentage of workers in an occupation is male or female? Are students finding work related to their education? What are the highest-paying jobs in Alaska? Which jobs provide the majority of the wages in an area? To what degree is an area dependent on a particular occupation?

The departments Research and Analysis Section uses the database -- along with other data bases including the Department of Revenue's Permanent Fund Dividend Division -- to create several reports for the Alaska Legislature on such things as resident hiring and the effectiveness of statewide training programs.

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