Last month, the Alaska Department of Labor released its annual “Residency of Alaska Workers” report, which showed 20.1 percent of Alaska’s 414,000 workers don’t live in the state. That percentage is the highest since 1997, when 20.3 percent of the state’s workers were nonresidents.
Using Permanent Fund Dividend records and data from the Alaska unemployment insurance database, researchers found the seafood processing industry remains the No. 1 user of non-Alaskan labor.
The seafood industry, followed closely by the tourism industry, is heavily seasonal, and most nonresident workers work in the state for only one or two quarters of the year before leaving.
"With significant exceptions, nonresidents typically did not work all four quarters of the year," the study reported.
Nonresident processing employment has risen each year since 2007 and is, at 76.6 percent, the highest rate since 1995, when 77.9 percent of seafood workers were nonresidents.
The Kodiak Island Borough has the third-most seafood workers of any state region, but more than half of those workers are Alaska residents, among the best ratios in the state. In the No. 1 region, the Aleutians East Borough, 90.2 percent of seafood workers are not state residents.
Because so many nonresident workers stay for only a season or two, their wages have not kept up with their resident counterparts. In Kodiak, nonresident workers make up 49.6 percent of the seafood workforce but earn only 29.9 percent of the industry’s wages.
Until 2009, the state identified the top nonresident seafood employers by business. That year, a change in federal regulations prohibited further releases. According to the final report, Peter Pan Seafoods (89 percent nonresident), Icicle Seafoods (88.3 percent) and Kanaway Seafoods (88.1 percent) were the top employers of nonresident workers.
While this year’s study is the state’s most complete resident labor record, it contains little speculation about the consequences of nonresident labor.
“There is no question that the nonresident workforce has a significant effect on Alaska’s economy, but determining the extent to which it is negative or positive is a complicated economic question the available data can’t answer,” the study states.
It goes on to conclude that the biggest driver of nonresident employment is seasonality, and year-round residents typically are unwilling to take only seasonal jobs.
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