Alaska's Population Increase in 2022 Outweighed by Ongoing Exodus

Alaska experienced an increase in its population in 2022, as revealed by new estimates from the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development. This marks the second consecutive year of growth after four years of decline.

State demographers have also revised the population estimate for 2021, increasing it based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, which indicated that fewer people had moved out of the state than previously believed.

State demographer David Howell highlighted that retaining more people in 2021 than initially thought was a significant development, overshadowing the slight change in the 2022 estimate.

The latest population estimate for Alaska is 736,556, the highest since 2018. However, the state continues to experience a higher number of people leaving compared to those moving in. Additionally, 2022 marked the tenth consecutive year of negative net migration.

The state's population increased due to a higher number of births than deaths, despite the out-migration. Nolan Klouda, director of the University of Alaska Center for Economic Development, acknowledged that while the decreasing out-migration rate is a positive aspect, it still falls short of achieving neutral or net positive migration.

Population figures serve as an important indicator of the state's economic health and are crucial for determining future demands for services such as healthcare, transportation, and education.

The accuracy of Alaska's annual estimates is generally considered higher than the annual figures released by the Census, as state officials have access to Permanent Fund dividend data, which federal officials do not.

Population change can also have political implications. In the 2022 race for governor, opponents of Governor Mike Dunleavy attributed the continued out-migration to his policies, although the decline had already begun before his tenure.

The decline in the state's school-age population has been a topic of discussion within debates over school closures in Anchorage. This issue may also arise during legislative discussions on the state's student-funding formula.

The demographic report attests that the COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on the state's demographics. During the pandemic, there was a notable decrease in the number of people relocating. However, between 2021 and 2022, there was a significant increase in both in-migrants and out-migrants for Alaska.

The report indicates that last year had the highest number of in-migrants since 2012-2013 and the most out-migrants since 2016-2017. When the departures are subtracted from the arrivals, there was a net loss of 2,489 residents.

Despite this loss, the state's population increased due to 9,364 births and 6,424 deaths, resulting in a natural increase of 2,940 individuals, which surpasses the number of people who left the state.

The state's estimated population increase between 2021 and 2022 is 451 when we subtract the migration figure from the natural increase.

Twenty-four states experienced a natural decrease, where the number of deaths exceeded the number of births. Alaska is also heading in that direction.

Although Alaska's fertility rate, which indicates the number of births per woman of reproductive age, is higher than the national average, it has been declining for several years.

On the other hand, the state's death rate has been rising due to the increasing average age of the population. According to the latest report, the number of deaths reached a record high, with an increase of nearly 1,000 compared to the previous year, which was also a record-breaking year.

While some of the rise in deaths can be attributed to COVID-19, it does not account for all of it. A recent report from the Department of Labor shows that elderly Alaskans, aged 71 and older, now make up over 7% of the state's population, reaching an all-time high.

In contrast, children under the age of 15 now constitute only 22% of the population, a decrease from 29% in the early 1990s.

According to Howell, the rate of natural increase is currently at its lowest point since the 1950s.

The state's estimation suggests that most cities and boroughs experienced slight population declines between 2021 and 2022. However, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and the Kenai Peninsula Borough stood out as exceptions.

The Fairbanks North Star Borough saw a decrease of more than 1,000 residents. This decline can be partially attributed to the fact that Fort Wainwright was preparing to deploy soldiers in the summer of 2021, leading to an artificial increase in the base's population during the state's counting period.

Moreover, Fairbanks, along with other cities in Alaska, has been losing population due to people leaving the state. Anchorage, which remains the largest city in the state, dropped below 290,000 residents, primarily due to outmigration and residents moving to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, where the cost of living is lower and housing availability is higher.

While some rural communities in Alaska have maintained stable populations due to a high birth rate counteracting long-term outmigration, this effect is diminishing with declining birth rates. The Nome Census Area, North Slope Borough, and Northwest Arctic Borough all experienced lower populations.

"In Nome, there has been a significant decline in births. Both Nome and the Northwest Arctic Borough have seen considerable reductions in their birth rates in recent years," explained Howell.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a severe impact on Skagway. As a tourist-dependent port that heavily relies on cruise ship visits, the absence of such visits in 2020 and limited visits in 2021 caused a decline of about seven and a half percent.

In neighboring Haines, there hasn't been a substantial decline in population. However, it is likely that the Census Bureau underestimated the city's residents in 2020. While the Census count showed just over 2,000 residents, the state estimates that there are actually more than 2,500 people living in Haines.

City officials plan to challenge the Census estimate, as it is used to determine federal funding. The Department of Labor is providing assistance as needed in this challenge.

To learn more about the population changes in Alaska, you can visit this link.

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