Unemployment numbers could change as state heads into summer season


ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The coronavirus pandemic has sent unemployment surging nationwide, with 14.7% of the workforce without a job in April, according to the national jobs report issued last Friday.

In Alaska, more than 50,000 unemployment claims were continued according to the most recent data from the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, but it will be another week and a half before the state knows exactly how many job losses came in April and in what sectors and locations.

"It's really sort of hitting almost every industry that we've got. Maybe the one exception is the federal government," Neal Fried, an economist with the state, said.

Even though the state knows how many people have filed an unemployment claim, not every claim results in benefits being paid.

Following the release of national data last week, personal finance company Money Geek forecasts that the unemployment in Anchorage will come out to 29%. Fried says the state's unemployment data won't be available until a week from Friday.

"For the most recent numbers and what's going on right now, I think Alaska is very much mimicking the rest of the country. But I think as time goes on, that's going to change," Fried said. "I think one of the changes is what's going to happen to fishing. We're not sure yet. We'll get some feel for that at the end of this week and the next couple of weeks, but that's going to be interesting to see."

Fried says the challenge in calculating the impact in Alaska is not just the number of jobs lost, but the number of seasonal jobs that are not gained during the summer, especially with few visitors expected to support the tourism industry.

"On average we have four or five thousand people employed in that industry during other months, but in the summer that skyrockets to 23,000. How many of those jobs are going to come back? We know it's going to be a lot less," Fried said. "Right now it looks like a lot of the claims data has really concentrated in the more urban places like Anchorage, the Kenai Peninsula, Juneau, the Mat-Su Borough, Fairbanks to a lesser extent. But that could change as the year goes on, especially for some of the small communities, for example, where the visitor industry is a big player."

As some businesses reopen in greater capacity and more Alaskans return to work, Fried says the impact of the virus' shock could shift within economic sectors in the coming months, with public sectors and the oil sector seeing a longer-term hit.

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