Independent gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker is challenging Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell on the quality of job numbers during his tenure as governor.
Parnell has repeated that his policies have resulted in the creation of 16,000 new jobs. He has made the claim on his campaign website, in his response to an Alaska Dispatch News questionnaire, and in his official Alaska Division of Elections candidate information.
The 16,000 jobs figure even made its way onto Anchorage PeopleMover bus ads, though it is unlikely the Parnell campaign authorized any oil-related graphic editorials.
According to the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development (DLWD), Parnell’s number is accurate. In August of 2009, Parnell’s first full month as governor, total seasonally adjusted non-farm employment in Alaska was 319,500. In September of this year, that number increased to 336,000.
The Walker campaign says Parnell’s per year average of jobs added — about 2,720 using DLWD statistics — does not compare favorably with recent governors. Again, using DLWD statistics from the time the governors took office until they left, the average number of jobs added per year by administration is as follows:
Sarah Palin: 1,480
Frank Murkowski: 5,000
Tony Knowles: 4,400
Wally Hickel: 4,675
The Parnell Administration’s record is only superior to that of Palin using the Walker campaign’s preferred method of comparison.
“Taking credit for such lukewarm jobs numbers is puzzling,” Walker said in a Monday press release. “This is like a kid waving his report card and announcing proudly, ‘look, everyone, I got a D!’ It just makes you scratch your head.”
But the hard job numbers do not tell the whole story. To truly see how Parnell compares to previous governors on job growth, the increase in jobs must be referenced against population growth.
The most recent DLWD population estimate is from July of 2013. At that time, the population of Alaska was estimated to be 736,399. When Parnell took office in July 2009, it was 697,828, yielding a four-year population growth of 5.5 percent. Looking at the job numbers only during that same time frame, job growth during the first four years of the Parnell Administration was 4.7 percent.
Population growth and job growth during previous administrations is noted below: (Since population estimates are made in July, while governors take office in January — Parnell being the exception — the percentages for Parnell’s predecessors reflect only their time in office without overlap. For example, Murkowski is measured from July 2003 to July 2006. Seasonal adjustment is therefore unnecessary.)
Again, the only recent governor to which Parnell compares favorably is Palin. Job growth under Parnell has failed to match population growth.
Between 2010 and 2013, the median age in Alaska only increased from 33.8 to 34.3, so Parnell cannot excuse what amounts to job loss by saying there was a baby boom or disproportionate aging that increased population outside the ages of employment.
If Parnell isn’t actually creating more jobs, are the jobs he is taking credit for better? Sticking with the peak employment month of July, we’ll compare generally lower paying retail trade jobs with the more lucrative oil and gas jobs for which our PeopleMover graffitist seems to think Parnell has an affinity.
In July of 2014, there were 15,000 oil and gas jobs in Alaska. When Parnell took office in 2009, there were 12,800, meaning oil and gas saw 17.2 percent growth. Oil and gas jobs in 2009 represented 3.7 percent of total jobs in Alaska. By 2014, that grew to 4.2 percent.
For retail, there were 37,300 jobs in July of 2009, or 10.9 percent of total Alaska jobs. By July of 2014, there were 39,600 retail jobs, about 11 percent of the total. Retail growth during Parnell’s time in office has been 6.2 percent.
Data of his predecessors:
Oil and gas has obviously seen a trend of double-digit growth since Knowles. Retail was overrepresented during the Hickel Administration. There was a market correction under Knowles, and since, retail as a percentage of total jobs has remained relatively stable.
Parnell’s record looks much better when compared by these industries. Retail doesn’t dominate the economy, and some higher paying jobs are up.
Parnell would like Alaskans to believe that job growth occurred not just during his watch, but because of his policies. Critics will argue that oil and gas growth occurred under a tax regime, Alaska’s Clear and Equitable Share (ACES), that Parnell opposed and ultimately replaced. His oil tax cut, Senate Bill 21, survived referendum in August.
And it must be noted that after five years of Parnell, jobs in public education have been stagnant, and construction jobs have decreased despite population grown.
On November 4, voters will have to decide whether Parnell will find the answers to employment questions during a second full term or if it is another governor’s turn to oversee the Alaska economy.