Kenai Peninsula loses jobs again in 2017

Employment continued to drop in the Kenai Peninsula Borough through 2017, though at a slower rate than in 2016.

The borough lost 271 jobs over the course of the year and the unemployment rate rose to 8.7 percent from 7.7 percent, according to the year-end summary of employment released by the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District on Tuesday. By comparison, the borough lost 965 jobs between June 2015 and June 2016.

Average annual wages stayed close to flat, increasing slightly over the course of the year. The average worker in the borough earned $45,857 over the course of the year, about $500 more than the $45,352 average in the fourth quarter of 2016. The 2017 average is about $9,000 less than the national average of $54,666.

Most of the job losses over the last five years have been in oil and gas, which are some of the highest paying jobs in the state. However, in the first two quarters of 2017, the Kenai Peninsula added 20 oil and gas jobs, according to a presentation by former state economist Alyssa Rodrigues at the Industry Outlook Forum in January. In the first two quarters of 2017, labor data showed that job losses continued into the retail and tourism sectors, both previously growing sectors on the Kenai Peninsula despite the downturn in oil and gas since mid-2015.

Kenai Peninsula Economic Development Director Tim Dillon told the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly that the year-end unemployment rate was actually lower than the rate in August, when it hit 9.4 percent.

“But we’re a full point off from where we were in the fall of last year,” he said. “One of the better parts, though is if you look at the cost of living index … the average salary has jumped up a little bit, which has increased the U.S. purchasing power.”

Statewide, the unemployment rate is about 7.3 percent, according to a Jan. 19 report from the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Employment fell about 1 percent between December 2016 and December 2017, or about 3,300 jobs, according to the report. Similar to previous years, most of the losses were in oil and gas, construction and state and federal government.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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