Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Census Data Spark Debate About Declining Alaska Youth Population
Census data showing Alaska has fewer young people than 2000 has attracted dueling interpretations.
FAIRBANKS — Census data showing Alaska has fewer young people than 2000 has attracted dueling interpretations.
The numbers, released this spring, count the state’s population as roughly 13 percent higher in 2010 than the decade before.
But the number of residents age 15 or younger shrunk, both relative to other age brackets and in raw figures, as reported last week by MSNBC.com.
The article, titled “The 10 states that are losing children the fastest,” suggested the reason Alaska lost young people “is simple: The state’s large energy industry still draws people who want relatively well-paid jobs, even if those jobs are in a remote area with an often hostile climate. ... Neither the environment nor the costs of daily life makes it an attractive place to raise children.”
Yet that interpretation — that economic conditions offer a “simple” explanation — may be off the mark, said Eddie Hunsinger, state government’s lead demographer. Hunsigner and state analysts think the dip in Alaska’s young population has more to do with Alaska’s place as haven to the baby boom generation.
Hunsinger said many of the children of those baby boomers — those born shortly after World War II — fell into the 15-and-under age bracket in 2000 but are now a decade older.
As Alaska Department of Labor researchers wrote in December’s issue of Trends magazine: “With the ‘echo boom’ cohort (the children of baby boomers) now entering working ages, the short-term projection for the school-age group supports slow growth; but further into the future, the projected total school age population will grow at a steady pace.”
The Daily News-Miner spoke Friday with the MSNBC.com article’s author, Douglas McIntyre, editor at the online news service 24/7 Wall St, LLC. McIntyre said his conclusion followed a look at Census results and also at “ancillary research” by the Pew Research Center and other organizations that looked at population trends. The review led his research group, whose articles McIntyre said are frequently picked up by national media outlets, to suggest Alaska is still attracting a relatively large number of people interested in capitalizing on the high wages offered by Alaska’s oil development sector.
Those same people, McIntyre said, may not want to stay here — or raise a family, leading to a lower number of children than in other states. That, he said, explains the 4 percent decrease in the population 15 and under between 2000 and 2010.
“It’s not exclusive to Alaska," he said, by phone, of the trend.
But that conclusion would not account for change over time. The Alaska Department of Labor reported in December that while the state’s population is expected to grow by 25 percent between 2009 and 2034, the number of seniors will “more than double” over the same stretch of time. Hunsinger said that sort of longer-term projection presents a clearer picture of population trends here than a snapshot approach offered by a year of Census data. He said it’s more likely the “echo boomer” effect, and not economic conditions, is the major factor behind short-term numbers found in recent population counts.
“If you have a larger proportion of baby boomers, you’ll have a larger proportion of their kids,” he said.
Contact staff writer Christopher Eshleman at 459-7582.