COVID-19 resulted in 651 area jobs lost

COVID-19 struck a blow to employment in the Valdez-Cordova area in 2019-2020, resulting in an overall decline of 15%, or 651 jobs, with truncated ferry traffic the probable drag on Cordova, and heavier losses in Valdez, said state labor economist Neal Fried.

COVID-19 carved an uneven economic path through Alaska’s 29 boroughs and census areas, leaving few unscathed over the past two years, Fried wrote in the August issue of Alaska Economic Trends, a publication of the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development. The pandemic took a 5% cut out of the state’s gross domestic product, a drop of over $2.6 billion in 2020, he said. While the GDP hasn’t returned to pre-COVID levels, recovery is continuing

Closures, reluctant consumers and the need to socially distance played a key role in most job losses everywhere in Alaska, albeit to varying degrees, Fried said. Those communities with larger service sectors lost the most jobs to social distancing, as industries such as leisure and hospitality, retail, and transportation often require personal contact, he said.

Tourism hit hardest in Southeast Alaska, where the greatest number of cruise ships would normally dock, but the worldwide economic slowdown and subsequent oil price collapse reverberated throughout Alaska as well, he said. Oil industry job losses hurt some communities more than others, as did the impact on the fishing industry a key economic driver for coastal Alaska, Fried said.

Although it is impossible to quantify COVID’s precise harm to fish processing in 2020 because the industry is so volatile from year to year, the pandemic did hamper hiring and required operational changes to keep the workforce safe, he said. Still, some 2020 job losses were unrelated to the pandemic and would have happened anyway, he said, as the state had already been losing jobs since late 2015.

Overall statewide employment was down 8% in 2020, the biggest early job loss in the state’s history, he said.