"Four Years Later" - Better or Worse for Alaskans?
State largely unaffected by recession
ANCHORAGE - Last night's vice presidential debate focused on how the economy has fared in the four years since Barack Obama was elected.
But for Alaskans, the question of whether we're better off than four years ago has an answer that lies mostly outside of presidential politics.
Says state economist Neal Fried: "We just have fundamentally a very different economy, you know, than the national average."
The national political debate about the economy arguably has minimal relevance to Alaska.
Vice President Joe Biden proclaimed: "We're in a situation where we inherited a god-awful circumstance. People are in real trouble. We acted to move to bring relief to the people who need the most help now."
Paul Ryan, the Republican candidate, countered, "President Obama, he had his chance. He made his choices. His economic agenda: more spending, more borrowing, higher taxes, a government take-over of health care. It’s not working. It’s failed to create the jobs we need."
But comparatively, jobs are not a particularly urgent matter in Alaska. Fried says there have never been more jobs here than there are now. "The fact is there are very few other states that can make that statement. I mean, the country is still at a huge deficit of jobs."
Alaska’s stability comes in large part from North Slope oil production.
"It's heavily price-driven. It was an increase in activity, as well, and employment, depending what years you look at. I mean, it's been fairly stable the last couple of years. But the price-driven, you know, has been -- last year we had $100 oil for the whole year. That’s never happened before."
Federal spending in the stimulus package and through support of the military also has been a big factor, Fried said.
Meanwhile, Alaska has reversed the longtime situation under which our employment rate has been higher than the national average.
"I think the better way of looking at it is the national rate went above our rate, because that's how deep that recession was, more so than our rate dropped below theirs. Because ours also came up, because we have that interaction in our labor markets."
But it's still a good time to be in Alaska.
Four years ago, the average number of jobs during the year was 322,100.
Last year, the average was estimated at 328, 800. 2012 data is still incomplete, of course.
Despite the increase in jobs, the unemployment rate increased slightly, from 6.4 percent in 2008 to 7.6 percent last year, due to job-seekers from the Lower 48. But the rate is believed to be dropping this year.