Economist: Alaska’s job losses are staggering, but not surprising

The Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development building in Juneau. (Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO)

Alaska lost 42,000 jobs in the month of April compared to the same month last year, according to data released Friday from the state Department of Labor. The losses are staggering, but state economist Karinne Wiebold said that after seeing the national numbers last week, she’s not surprised.

“That’s not a magnitude that we’ve run into before, so it’s large number, it really is, but it’s not shocking,” she said.

Alaska’s unemployment rate now stands at 13%, slightly lower than the national rate. The sector hardest hit is leisure and hospitality, where nearly 50% of people lost their jobs. Wiebold said those jobs, which include restaurant workers, bar workers, gym workers were lost due to shutdowns due to the coronavirus. Those jobs tend to be relatively low-paying.

“But at the same time, we’re down over the year over 1,000 oil and gas jobs and oil and gas jobs are very well paid, so being down 1000 of those could be a wage equivalent of many more jobs in lower-paid sectors, and that obviously has a big effect on our economy,” she said.

There were also substantial losses in retail, construction, and state and local governments, which Wiebold said are largely linked to education job cuts. The total number of people filing for unemployment benefits in Alaska has hovered around 50,000 for the past several weeks.

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