Some food for thought arrived this week in the March edition of the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s excellent publication, “Alaska Economic Trends.”
This month’s cover story is titled “The Working-age Population Decline,” and it’s not particularly good news for Alaska.
After peaking in 2015 at 475,876, the number of working-age people — defined as the number of people between the ages of 18 and 64 —in Alaska stood at about 449,140 in 2022.
Between 2013 and 2022, Alaska’s working-age population declined by 5.4%, according to the story by Eric Sandberg, a demographer working with the State of Alaska.
OK, so how does Alaska’s decline of working-age population compare with other states? Not well. Only Wyoming (-6%) and West Virginia (-8%) saw larger declines.
Within Alaska, Southeast Alaska as a region saw the largest overall decline in working-age population between 2013 and 2022 at -11%, according to the story. All the other regions registered overall declines, as well. The Interior saw a drop of -10%, followed by the Gulf Coast (-7%), Anchorage/Mat-Su (-5%), Southwest (-4%), and Northern (-3 %).
Here in Southeast Alaska, Ketchikan, Juneau, Petersburg and Haines saw declines of between -6% and -11.9% during the 2013-2022 time frame. Prince of Wales-Hyder, Sitka, Hoonah-Angoon and Wrangell had declines of -12% or more.
Sandberg cites three reasons for the change, with the main reason being net losses in migration. The other reasons cited were an aging population and deaths during the pandemic.
Sandberg explained: “As net migration turned negative after 2013, though, and age-related growth narrowed, deaths became a bigger factor and even more so since the pandemic began in 2020. Working-age deaths jumped to around 2,000 in 2021 and 2,400 by 2022, putting deaths in this age group 40 percent above pre-pandemic levels. Not all deaths were from COVID-19 specifically, but the pandemic and its ripple effects raised total working-age mortality, at least temporarily.”
Sandberg’s analysis contains much more information than can be included here. We encourage folks to read through the story, which can be found online at
He acknowledges that a “decline in working-age adults is not uncommon in the developed world, where several generations of declining birth rates are the norm,” but he also notes that the decline has short-term and long-term economic consequences.
“Areas with a working-age decline have grappled with labor shortages, slow or stagnant economic growth, less consumer demand, increased dependency ratios, and difficulty funding social programs,” he writes.
Those circumstances do have a ring of familiarity here in Alaska.
The story doesn’t offer remedies. That’s something that Alaskans will have to  figure out.
A good first step is understanding what is happening. We hope that copies of this month’s Alaska Economic Trends have reached the offices of the governor and legislators, as well as local elected officials.