The Kenai Peninsula weathered the COVID-19 pandemic a little better than other areas of Alaska, according to the latest data from the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
In March 2020, Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s emergency declarations led to all non-essential businesses closing across Alaska. That left a huge chunk of the state out of work. Schools closed and trips were cancelled as the state wrestled with how to control the COVID-19 pandemic. Though the Kenai Peninsula was much quieter in summer 2020 due to a lack of out-of-state tourism, the Department of Labor’s numbers show that the region experienced a smaller job loss than many other areas of the state.
Overall, the Kenai Peninsula Borough saw a decline of 1,235 jobs, or about 6.2 percent, between 2019 and 2020. That’s less than the average across Alaska, which was 8 percent, a fraction of the most affected areas. For example, the Denali Borough, where cruise tourism dominates, lost 53 percent of its jobs. Skagway lost 48 percent of its jobs last year.
Last year saw the largest single-year decline in jobs in Alaska’s history. COVID was the main contributor to last year’s job losses, but the state has been on a downward trend in employment since 2015, when oil prices began to slide and pushed the state into an economic downturn.
The Department of Labor credits the Kenai’s diverse economy with buffering some of that loss. Though the peninsula relies heavily on tourism, oil, and fishing, there are also significant retail, service, and health care sectors. The borough is home to several diverse communities that don’t operate in unison, so last year’s results were mixed, the department said.
Statewide, the economy is slowly recovering from the depth of the pandemic. Employment is still below what it was in June 2019, but the latest job numbers show a 5.6 percent increase from June 2020. Some industries have recovered completely to pre-pandemic levels, like health care and construction. Oil and gas, however, continued to decline even below 2020 levels.
The Kenai Peninsula borough’s current unemployment rate is 7.1 percent, compared to 12 percent in June 2020.
Reach Elizabeth Earl at firstname.lastname@example.org.