Neal Fried

Neal Fried

Alaska employment is in a slow-recovery mode with some industries showing gains in jobs over 2020, but overall numbers are still sharply down from pre-pandemic 2019, state labor economist said.

Total jobs were up 2.8 percent in October compared with the same month of 2020, and private employment was up 3.9 percent.

But the job count was still down sharply compared with October 2019, however, with 15,800 fewer people employed than two years ago.

Neal Fried, an economist with the department, said the recovery will take a while. Alaska had not fully recovered from the effects of a drawn-out recession when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“The pandemic was just one of two recessions we’ve had in the last 10 years. The last recession was really bad, too, and we never recovered from that one,” he said in an interview. Alaska had a “tiny little recovery in 2019, and then, bam, we got hit again.”

The state was in a recession between 2015 and 2018 that was driven by a fall in oil prices, economists have said. Alaska began seeing its first big job losses due to the pandemic in April 2020, the department has said.

The report released Nov. 19 showed gains for most industries compared to October 2020, with the leisure and hospitality and trade, transportation and utilities sectors seeing the biggest jumps, with about 2,900 more jobs each last month compared to a year earlier.

Oil and gas had about 6,600 jobs last month — 500 more than the year before but 3,200 below pre-pandemic October 2019 numbers, according to the report. Petroleum workers were hit particularly hard in the 2020 pandemic recession as North Slope drill rigs were laid down and many industry projects were delayed.

Energy markets and oil prices have shown sharp recovery but the Alaska industry has been slow to respond because companies are still concerned about the course of the COVID-19 virus and because of shortages of skilled workers in some fields, and in certain equipment and materials.

But the leisure and hospitality sector was up 2,900 jobs from October 202- but still 5,500 down from October 2019. Trade, transportation and utilities jobs were also up 2,900 from October 2019 but still 2.200 jobs down from October 2019, before the pandemic.

Health care had 100 more jobs in October than in October 2019 and manufacturing jobs last month were at the same level as October 2019. The construction industry added 300 jobs last month compared to the prior year and had 300 fewer than in October 2019, according to the report.

Fried said the retail sector lost significant ground last year but has been regaining ground this year. “But I don’t know if they’ll ever get back to their pre-COVID peaks because that industry was already having a tough time prior to COVID because of e-commerce and ... COVID just added fuel to the fire on that one,” he said. Changes in commerce also are occurring nationwide, he said.

Fried said he sees as a positive for the state the job market, which he described as “pretty good.” Many businesses have cited challenges in hiring workers but Fried said there is another side. He said it also means people have more opportunities and choices.

Becky Bohrer of the Associated Press contributed to this article

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