Alaska jobs down 39,900 last month amid virus worries

Alaska had 39,900 fewer jobs in July than a year earlier, with nearly all sectors posting losses and tourism-dependent southeast Alaska hit especially hard by the coronavirus’ economic fallout, the state labor department said.

The department said the only major sector with more jobs than it had in July 2019 was the federal government, which gained 200 jobs. Among the industries with the biggest numbers of job losses were leisure and hospitality, with 14,300 fewer jobs last month than in July 2019; trade, transportation and utilities, which includes retail and scenic flight tours associated with summer tourism, with 6,200 fewer jobs; and manufacturing, with 4,000 fewer jobs, the state figures show.

Southeast Alaska was hit hard, the department said, citing the impact on tourism from cruise ship cancellations, along with reduced sailings of state ferries and Canadian border travel restrictions. Cities like Juneau, normally teeming with cruise ship tourists this time of year, have been quiet.

The department notes the data released Friday doesn’t capture the impact the pandemic has had on self-employed Alaskans, including small business owners and fishermen. There’s “little doubt that losses among the self-employed are also affecting the health of Alaska’s economy,” the department said in a release.

The state this week submitted an application seeking to provide an enhanced unemployment benefit of $300 a week, deputy labor department commissioner Cathy Munoz said. It was an option given to states under a presidential executive order after payments approved by Congress for an additional $600 in weekly benefits expired.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration also is seeking to expand eligibility for federal coronavirus relief aid for small businesses through a state-run grant program, which some legislators have criticized as being too sluggish in distributing aid.

The administration is asking a legislative committee to sign off on the plans. Rep. Chris Tuck, who chairs the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee, to which the request is being sent, said the committee could consider the proposal next week.

The committee earlier this year agreed with initial spending plans for that program and others, and the full Legislature, prompted by a lawsuit, later ratified the committee’s actions. A Superior Court judge recently sided with the state in that case.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.