- Associated Press - Saturday, May 7, 2016

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - Alaska’s population will continue to climb over the next 30 years, inching closer to the 1 million mark, a new report says.

The state’s population is projected to increase by 162,200 from 2015 numbers to 899,825 people in 2045, according to a report released last week from the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

The population of Alaskans age 65 and older is the group expected to grow the fastest, and annual natural growth — births minus deaths — is expected to slow.

Southeast Alaska is the only region in the state that is expected to lose population, and the Anchorage and Matanuska-Susitna regions are predicted to grow the fastest. The Mat-Su Borough is set to grow more than 80 percent between last year and 2045, the report said.

Dan Robinson, director of research and analysis at the Labor Department and one of the people who worked on the report, said what will determine Alaska’s population more than births and deaths is migration in and out of the state, “and that’s a big question right now.”

The report comes with the caveat that some events — such as the discovery of oil at Prudhoe Bay in 1968 and the construction of the pipeline — can’t be foreseen and make migration unpredictable. That could throw off such projections that use hypothetical future trends.

“You get, more than anything, a range of possibilities” from the report, Robinson said.

Worries are rising about Alaska’s future as economists speculate about whether or not the state is already in a recession and lawmakers try to fix a $4 billion budget deficit. The Labor Department has also predicted that 2016 will bring the first annual jobs loss in the state since 2009.

“We’ve heard some people mention concern about big population losses,” Robinson said. “It helps to put that in context.”

Significant population changes in Alaska in the past came with the construction and completion of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline, the oil boom and bust, wars and other economic swings.

The last such population report came out in 2014, at which time the projection showed that Alaska’s population would hit 925,042 in 2042.

Projections in the report are based on historical population data and fertility, mortality and migration rates. It uses Alaska’s population of 737,625 in July 2015 as the starting point.

Two other scenarios show that, on the lower end, the state’s population could actually dip to 642,697 in 2045 if there is a net migration rate of negative 1 percent per year. On the other hand, it could reach as high as 1,247,887 with an annual net migration rate of 1 percent.

The middle-of-the-road scenario uses a net migration of 0 percent because in recent years, Alaska’s net migration has “trended toward being neutral,” said Eric Sandberg, a demographer at the Labor Department who also worked on the report.

Projections show the population of Alaska Natives in the state, including those who report more than one race, will grow from 143,868 in 2015 to 184,561 in 2045.

“Like the state as a whole,” the report said, “the Alaska Native population’s growth is expected to slow as the population ages.”

The state’s median age is expected to tick up from 34.5 in 2015 to 36.8 in 2045, the report said, and the male-to-female ratio will shift from 107.5 males per 100 females to 104.8 males per 100 females.

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Information from: Alaska Dispatch News, https://www.adn.com

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