Alaska’s population steady amid COVID, departures

A bunch of people near a dog yard
Crowds gathered near the holding area at the official start of the Iditarod in Willow on March 6, 2022. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

Alaska’s population remained stable from 2021 into last year, as state officials say higher death rates from the COVID-19 pandemic and Alaskans leaving the state negated natural population increases.

Population estimates released Thursday by the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development, spanning July 2021 through July 2022, show Alaska gaining 451 people for a statewide population of 736,556. The state’s 9,364 births exceeded its 6,424 deaths by 2,940 — but, for the 10th year in a row, more people moved out of Alaska than moved to the state.

Alaska lost 2,489 people in net migration last year. Still, the number of new arrivals was the highest in nearly a decade — 44,506, up from 38,638 a year ago, said David Howell, Alaska’s state demographer.

“We actually had our largest number of in-migrants to the state since the 2012-to-2013 period between 2021 and 2022,” he said.

During the same time period 46,995 people left the state, up from 40,489 a year ago.

The COVID-19 pandemic also factored into the latest population data.

Statewide deaths rose from 4,618 in 2019-2020 figures to 5,428 and 6,424 in the next two years’ measurements — a roughly 39% increase. COVID’s impact is also reflected in a 2023 state jobs outlook this week which shows Alaska adding jobs, but still behind its losses in tourism and other sectors during the throes of the pandemic. 

The fastest-growing regions of the state were the Matanuska-Susitna and Kenai Peninsula boroughs, among only four of Alaska’s 30 boroughs and census areas which saw population increases. Mat-Su’s population grew by 2,666 people, a roughly 2.4% increase, while the Kenai Peninsula Borough saw 909 more people for a roughly 1.5% population rise.

The Fairbanks North Star Borough saw the largest population decline on paper, at 982 people or nearly 1%. Much of that reduction, Howell said, was the result of about 600 additional soldiers deployed to Fort Wainwright in 2021 who have left the base in the year since.

“It would have been a much smaller loss, if not for that troop transfer occurring during our 2021 survey,” Howell said.

Anchorage’s population fell by about 0.2% to 289,810 people. The median age in Alaska’s largest city remained around 35.

As for the region with the highest median age, that’s the Hoonah-Angoon area in Southeast, at about 49 years old. The youngest is the Kusilvak Census Area in Western Alaska, with a median age of about 24.

Another trend reflected in the data is the graying of Alaska as Baby Boomers become senior citizens, with the last members of the group set to reach age 65 by 2029. The number of Alaskans 65 and over increased by 5%, while Alaskans aged 18 to 64 declined by 1%.

Howell said part of the shift was due to a recent decline in the arrival of working-age people in Alaska, which had previously served to offset the graying trend.

“The other thing kind of working against that is that the number of 18-year-olds and the number of 64-year-olds are very close right now,” he said. “Historically, there’ll be a lot more 18-year-olds than 64-year-olds, but because of that large Baby Boomer cohort, and then birth rates being down from historic levels, we’re seeing smaller youth population aging into the working ages.”

As moves to and from the state increase after the initial years of COVID-19, Howell was hard-pressed to say how much the state has bounced back from the pandemic years.

“We’re clearly seeing some pent-up demand for moves both for Alaska and nationwide domestic migration is up quite a bit,” he said. “But it’s hard to impossible to say really, if these trends will continue.”

[Sign up for Alaska Public Media’s daily newsletter to get our top stories delivered to your inbox.]

a portrait of a man outside

Chris Klint is a web producer and breaking news reporter at Alaska Public Media. Reach him more about Chrishere.

Previous articleAlaska legislators say abortion-related legislation is unlikely to advance in the Capitol this year
Next articleFormer Mat-Su substitute teacher charged with sexually abusing 2 children