Better than 71 percent of Alaskans older than 16 years of age either have a job or are actively seeking one, which is a markedly better average than the nation as a whole, according to an Alaska Department of Labor and Workplace Development analysis of recent U.S. Census data.
The national percentage is just 63.9 percent, though census figures show both Alaska's and the nation's numbers are down from the 1990 census when they were 74.7 and 65.3 percent, respectively.
That appetite for employment was a contributing factor in making Alaska's median household income the highest in the country during the three years from 1999 to 2001. According to an article in the November issue of "Alaska Economic Trends" published by the labor department, household income is calculated by dividing the total income reported by state residents by the total number of households.
So why has Alaska apparently done so well?
"It's probably related to the age of our state," said Dan Robinson, state labor economist, who authored the trends article.
Alaska has fewer older people, meaning that a higher percentage of residents are within working age.
"And younger women are more likely to work," he said.
Still, Alaskans per capita earned just $22,660 a year on average, placing the state 14th in the nation and only a little above the national average of $21,587. According to the labor department, part of the reason is that during the 1999-2001 period, the Lower 48 was enjoying a booming economy, the highs of which Alaskans largely missed.
Since then, Outside residents have seen that economy falter dramatically, while here in Alaska, the economy has enjoyed modest but steady growth.
While the high median household figure is impressive, its effect is tempered by the fact that Alaskans have a higher cost of living, Robinson said. Even with that, the fact that more members of Alaska households are considered to be in the labor force helped boost the median household income above states such as California, Washington and Oregon.
Another factor to be considered, according to trends, is that Alaska sees pluses in factors the rest of the nation largely considers negatives.
"More often than not, Alaska's economy marches to the beat of a different drummer than other states or the United States as a whole," Robins said.
High oil prices, he said, tend to drag down the economy Outside, while here in Alaska they mean higher oil company profits, more tax revenue and more jobs.
In fact, the growth in wage and salary employment in Alaska was bettered in just three states between August 2001 and August 2002 -- Wyoming, Nevada and Kentucky. Only 14 states showed positive employment growth during the period.
Alaska's job growth, Robinson said, has come entirely from the service-producing sector of the economy -- which includes such industries as health care and restaurants.
The Anchorage/Matanuska-Susitna Region continues to lead the state's employment growth, adding some 2,650 jobs over the past year, the trends article reported. The Gulf Coast Region, which includes the Kenai Peninsula Borough, Kodiak Island Borough and the Valdez-Cordova area, basically stayed even, adding a total of 50 jobs. Losses in the fisheries industry contributed to the slow growth.
According to the latest unemployment figures, the Kenai Peninsula Borough's unemployment rate remained steady at 7.8 percent during July, which was up from 6.3 percent the year before.
Unemployment figures can be deceiving, however, because they do not include people not actively searching for work. Such people are not considered part of the workforce. That kind of unemployment is not uncommon in rural areas of Alaska where work often comes seasonally.
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