Economist: Alaska job losses expected to moderate

  • By Becky Bohrer
  • Wednesday, January 3, 2018 9:34pm
  • News

JUNEAU — The state labor department expects continued job losses in Alaska this year but at a more moderate level than earlier in the recession.

Economist Karinne Wiebold said Wednesday that it appears the depth of the recession is diminishing in the state.

Wiebold wrote in a new labor department report that total employment is forecast to decline by 0.5 percent this year, compared to declines of 1.1 percent last year and 1.9 percent in 2016.

She wrote that one reason for slowing losses is that oil and gas, state government and other sectors that suffered bigger losses appear to be stabilizing at lower job levels.

The oil and gas sector and state government each could lose another 500 jobs this year, the report says, adding that most state government job losses so far have come through attrition, with agencies not filling spots after a worker retires or leaves.

The state was hit hard when oil prices began plummeting in 2014 from levels that had reached as much as about $110 a barrel, blowing a massive hole in a state budget that has been heavily reliant on volatile oil revenues.

The state Revenue Department says North Slope oil prices averaged just under $50 a barrel during the last fiscal year, which ended June 30. Prices nudged above $60 last fall and have remained in that range, according to Department of Revenue estimates.

Legislators, unable to agree on the best way to close the deficit, have been using savings to help cover costs.

Wiebold said one way the state budget affects the economy is with the capital budget, which she said affects construction. State funding for capital budgets, which include infrastructure projects, has been sharply reduced in recent years.

In her report, she said some industries have weathered the recession relatively unscathed.

The health care industry, for example, is expected to continue adding jobs this year. Growth in that sector in recent years has been aided by the growing health care needs of an aging population and expanded access to coverage through health insurance or Medicaid, Wiebold said.

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