Outmigration Trends Continue

Results from the Pebble Environmental Baseline Document (EBD) socioeconomic studies in southwest Alaska verify downward economic trends previously reported by state agency groups throughout the past decade and recorded as part of Census studies from 1999 through 2009. The results from the five years of EBD studies confirm a general population decline in most areas, as well as a high cost of living and low year-round employment opportunities.

The majority of socioeconomic studies were undertaken between 2004 and 2008 as part of the EBD with subsequent data for some areas included from 2009 and 2010. The socioeconomic baseline studies were undertaken as part of the Pebble Partnership’s extensive environmental studies program encompassing both the Bristol Bay and Cook Inlet drainage areas. The studies collected local and borough-level demographic information including population size, age, gender, race, language and household characteristics. The economic studies included information on employment, labor force status, key employers, basic industries, income, occupation, unemployment and other data.

For villages located within the Bristol Bay Borough, overall population declined 23 percent from 2000 to 2009, with the Dillingham Census Area seeing a four percent decline. The Lake and Peninsula Borough also showed significant population declines at 15 percent during the same time period, although the studies show some exceptions in areas such as Port Alsworth.

While the overall impact to the broader base of communities is stark, population declines have even greater ramifications for small villages where large outmigration has occurred, often cutting community populations in half in less than a generation’s time. According to Census numbers from 2000 and 2010, the population of Naknek decreased by 20 percent from 678 residents to 544, losing 134 community members in a decade. The population of Chignik Lake declined by 50 percent during the same time period from 145 to 73, a loss of 72 residents. Similar declines are seen in communities such as Levelock, which declined 43 percent dropping from 122 residents to just 69, Nondalton which declined 17 percent from 221 residents to 184, and Pilot Point, which declined 32 percent from 100 to 68 residents

While outmigration and population declines impact communities in many ways, perhaps the most immediate repercussions are seen with rural Alaska school closures, which occur when a community has less than 10 resident students. Recently, Pedro Bay, in southwest Alaska, was forced to close its school for falling below the state of Alaska student minimum. An additional five schools within the Lake and Peninsula Borough, also in southwest Alaska, are being monitored as they are close to falling below the minimum student requirement. The ramifications are immediate for communities that lose their schools, impacting other village services such as regular mail deliveries, air travel and jobs.

Along with the overall population declines reported in the EBD, the research concurs with other state of Alaska reports that show that school enrollment has dropped dramatically by 55 percent between 1997 and 2010 in the Bristol Bay Borough and declined 36 percent in the Lake and Peninsula Borough.

Socioeconomic studies for the EBD also included data for the Kenai Peninsula Borough, which covers approximately 16,000 square miles of land bordered on the east by Prince William Sound and straddling Cook Inlet on the west. Studies also included research for the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, covering 24,700 square miles and the Municipality of Anchorage providing a much wider and more diversified range of results than those from Southwest Alaska.

To review the full EBD presentation of socioeconomic studies, or a condensed technical summary of the EBD socioeconomic studies visit www.pebbleresearch.com.