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Shifting demographics boost Alaska labor rates

By Kirsten Swann 12:39 AM November 8, 2013

Data shows older Alaskans increasingly likely to go back to work

ANCHORAGE – While nationwide job participation numbers reached a 30-year low this fall, Alaska economists said the state is heading in the opposite direction.

October data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics shows a 62 percent labor force participation rate. The number meant two-thirds of working-age Americans — excluding prison inmates, mental patients and military members – had a job.

Neal Fried, a state labor economist, said the participation rate often presents the most complete economic picture. And while Alaska’s participation rate has declined steadily over the past decade, since 2010 it experienced a slight comeback. Fried said the current Alaska job participation rate stands at about 68 percent.

The biggest employment gains, he said, came from older adult demographics.

“What that’s telling us is that older people are staying in the labor market longer,” Fried said.

Friday afternoon at the University Center Mall, Mark Moraes gripped a stack of resumes and prepared to enter the civilian work force.

“I’m interested in aviation jobs,” Moraes said, dressed in fatigues and accompanied by his wife. “I know Alaska Airlines is here, trying to see who else might be here. As a helicopter pilot, I’m trying to go into aviation.”

Moraes works as a helicopter crew chief for the Alaska Air National Guard, and said he’s ready to retire at the end of the month after spending three decades in the military.

But he’s not done with work.

At Friday’s job fair, Moraes shook hands with prospective employers, collected business cards and prepared to enter the next phase of his career. Fried said it’s a growing trend: Adult workers choosing to continue their employment rather than retire. State labor statistics show adults age 55 and older are increasingly likely to continue working.

While younger demographics have seen declines over past years, Fried said older age groups were going back to work. He said it could point to a variety of things, from the loss of retirement assets following the 2008 recession to new, better employment opportunities created by a slowly recovering economy.

Moraes said he was looking forward to experiencing a new work environment.

“March of last year, I kind of made the decision,” he said. “Just for personal reasons.”

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