Mired in its third year of recession, Alaska’s economy is inching closer toward emerging from its prolonged slide, said a Labor Department economist.

But state economist Neal Fried says one major economic shift won’t instantly push the state out of the recession.

“Remember it’s these little incremental increases or the ending of losses that brings us closer to the end of recession,” Fried told an attentive Anchorage Chamber luncheon crowd. “It’s not some big event.”

Fried cited several developments that he said can help push Alaska forward:

  • The projected rise of cruise ship passengers visiting Alaska, expected to exceed one million this year. Industry projections estimate 1.1 million cruise visitors this year and 1.3 million next year.
  • North Slope oil prices hovering around the $70 per barrel most of the year, even pushing past $80 for several days. This is a big difference form the 40 dollar oil range two years ago.
  •  Mining industry employment has remained stable, evening enjoyed slight growth since 2016, especially given more exploration statewide.

But Alaska still has the nation’s highest unemployment rate, close to 7 percent and 3 points above the national rate.

Fried cast some perspective on the difference between the state and national rates, adding the national rate has dropped faster than Alaska’s.

Fried adds recent closures to Sam’s Clubs, Sears and Toys R Us have slowed the state’s recovery.

“It’s a matter of those sectors that lost a lot of ground are recovering now, and it’s just taking a little longer,” Fried said.

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