This May 2020 photo shows an open sign illuminated on a Juneau business. Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development reports the state has added jobs but has not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels of employment. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)

This May 2020 photo shows an open sign illuminated on a Juneau business. Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development reports the state has added jobs but has not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels of employment. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)

Alaska gains jobs but doesn’t reach pre-pandemic levels

Numbers still lagged what they were before the pandemic, per state report.

By Becky Bohrer

Associated Press

Alaska had 19,100 more jobs in April than it did the same month in 2020 but the numbers still lagged what they were before the pandemic, the state labor department reported Friday.

There were an estimated 297,200 nonfarm jobs in Alaska last month, compared to 278,100 in April 2020 and 322,400 in April 2019, the report shows.

The report provides a comparison to April 2020, the first month in which huge job losses hit as pandemic fears prompted business closures and restrictions. The department said industries that recovered the largest numbers of jobs last month were those that took the biggest hits last spring, such as leisure and hospitality, which last month had 6,300 more jobs than a year earlier.

Retail gained 3,400 jobs, and education and health care had 4,600 more jobs last month than in April 2020, the report states. On the other end, the oil and gas sector had 2,600 fewer jobs last month than in April 2020, and mining and logging had 1,800 fewer.

The health care sector had recovered to pre-pandemic, April 2019 job numbers, the report states.

There were 2,000 more jobs in local government and 1,200 more jobs in state government last month than in April 2020. Federal job numbers were down by 500, with the report noting the hiring of U.S. Census workers had bolstered federal government numbers last year.

Alaska’s preliminary unemployment rate for April stood at 6.7%, though the department has cautioned against reading too much into the unemployment rate, saying it has been an “unreliable and misleading” economic indicator during months affected by the pandemic. Department economist Karinne Wiebold said by email Friday that job numbers are “a better indicator of the overall health of the economy.”

The state labor commissioner, Tamika L. Ledbetter, last week said the economy is showing positive signs in announcing the state’s plans to stop participating next month in a federal program that provides an extra $300 a week in unemployment aid. Ledbetter said there were more job openings than applicants.

Some legislators have raised concerns with the decision. The state Senate this week included in its version of the budget $10 million for one-time bonuses of $1,200 to residents with an unemployment insurance claim as of Wednesday who later accept full-time work in Alaska, with the intent that such bonuses would be paid after four weeks of work. The proposal also calls for one-time bonuses of $600 for those who take part-time work, with the same conditions.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, an Anchorage Democrat who backed the amendment, said he would have liked to have seen lawmakers vote instead to accept the $300 a week unemployment boost. But he said he sees the potential to provide job bonuses as a positive. He said there was a drafting error in the amendment but his intent is for the money to come from the state’s allocation of federal recovery aid dollars.

He said he doesn’t see it as becoming a point of contention as House and Senate negotiators work to hash out a compromise budget.

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