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Alaska unemployment rate edges up

Alaska unemployment rates remained persistently high in June, with new job seekers entering the market more rapidly than summer hiring could absorb them, according to data from the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development released Friday.

While the Alaska seasonally adjusted unemployment rate moved from 7.3 percent in May to 7.5 in June, it remained below last June’s 7.9 percent.

State economist Alyssa Shanks described the monthly change as “statistically insignificant,” and noted that May’s rate had been revised down from the 7.4 percent previously announced as more data became available.

The national rate also went up slightly but was also below last year at this time.

For more than two-and-a-half years Alaska’s unemployment rate has been below the national average, which is historically unusual.

The lowest rate in the state was Bristol Bay, at the height of the fishing season, at 2.0 percent followed by two tourism hotspots, Skagway at 3.1 percent and Denali Borough at 4.3 percent. The North Slope Borough rate was 5.2 percent.

The highest unemployment rate in the state was the Wade Hampton census area in Southwest Alaska at 23.5 percent, where a persistent lack of available jobs leads to chronically high unemployment, Shanks said.

The statewide unemployment total, also not seasonally adjusted, showed an increase from 7.3 percent in May to 7.9 percent in June, above even last year’s June rate of 7.7 percent.

That appears to have been largely due to the expansion of the numbers of those seeking work, which economists say can be linked to the rest of the nation’s economic travails. Alaskans who lose their jobs may remain on the state’s unemployment data, while in better times they’d find new jobs down south.

Despite an increase in private sector jobs over the last year, an equal-size decline in government jobs during the period eliminated any chance of a decline in the national unemployment rate, the Rockefeller Institute of Government reported Friday after an analysis of federal jobs data.

“Public-sector employment declines are widespread, with total state and local government jobs falling in 39 states but rising in 11 others over the past year,” the Institute said.

In Alaska that pattern was followed, but the state’s stronger economy produced additional private sector jobs.

Total employment rose 5,700 over the last year, despite a decline of 1,800 government jobs, the Department of Labor and Workforce Development said.

The state’s largest gainer was food services and drinking places, at 2,200 jobs gained, and health care at 1,800 jobs gained.

Other sectors gaining jobs in the year were mining, logging, mostly in its oil and gas area, and manufacturing, mostly in seafood processing.

The only area to lose jobs, other than government, was in financial activities — down 300 jobs.