Alaska is the only state to see a decline in median income in 5-year census survey

A woman in a green jacket and a blue and white shoulder bag knocks at a door
A census worker knocks on a door in Dillingham. Wednesday, September 2, 2020. (Isabelle Ross/KDLG)

Alaska was the only state in America to experience a decline in median household income from 2016 to 2020, according to census data released last week. It was also the only state to see poverty levels stay about the same. All other states saw declines in poverty.

According to the American Communities Survey, the median household income in Alaska in 2020 was about $77,790. In 2015, it was $1,500 more, at $79,258. 

State economist Neal Fried with the Department of Labor says the data isn’t surprising. While the national economy was booming in that five-year period, Alaska’s economy was dragging due to increased oil production nationwide.

“Energy prices had come down so much during that period of time, so that we lost thousands of oil and gas jobs in Alaska during that period of time,” Fried said.

Fried estimates the state went from around 15,000 oil and gas jobs to a little more than 6,000 in that time. Oil and gas jobs are some of the highest paying in the state, which helps to explain why the median income fell when many of those jobs went away.

On top of that, Alaska’s retiree population grew during the survey years, Fried says. Income tends to drop off in retirement, which contributed to the decline. 

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Kavitha George is the host of Alaska Morning News at Alaska Public Media. She also reports on business, labor and the economy. Reach her at kgeorge@alaskapublic.org.