Pancake Ice

Pancake ice floats down the Chena River through downtown as winter tightens its grip on Fairbanks Friday afternoon, October 20, 2017. File photo

FAIRBANKS — The Fairbanks North Star Borough’s population fell by 1,216 in 2017, part of a larger trend in which Alaska’s population declined for the first time since the late 1980s.

Alaska’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development published the statistics in the March edition of Alaska Economic Trends.

The FNSB had a natural increase (birth rate) of 1,118 last year. But a decrease of 2,334 in net migration (in-migration minus out-migration) means the borough’s population decreased by 1,216. 

The number of borough residents in 2017 — 97,738 — is about 200 more than the 2010 census recorded.

Demographers do expect FNSB’s population to grow, thanks to the arrival of F-35s at Eielson Air Force Base, according to the report.

Within the state, 699 people left Fairbanks for Anchorage, while 475 moved the opposite direction. Alaska’s population decreased by 8,900 last year, the fifth year in a row of net migration losses.

“This represents the longest streak of Alaska losing more migrants than it gains since World War II, when yearly numbers first became available,” according to the report.

Even though net migration has been in the negative for the past five years, it’s the first population decrease in decades.

Alaska’s birthrate had more than offset a migration loss of 29,000 people over five years, keeping the total population growing. But last year, birth rates fell and death rates increased, tipping the scale toward a population decrease of 0.4 percent.

The prolonged net migration loss is “a sure indicator of tough economic times,” according to the report.

Migration is always a two-way street, people leaving and coming at the same time. But one direction usually has more traffic. 

Alaska’s working-age population, ages 18-64, also dropped for the fifth consecutive year, a 3 percent decline. Every age group over 50 has had higher proportions of out-migration. Between 2010 and 2015, an average of 800 more people left the state than moved in between ages 60-64.

“A reflection of the downward shift across all age groups,” according to the report.

Alaska does have the fastest-growing senior population in the United States, but at 10.4 percent of the population, seniors in Alaska comprise a smaller share than any other state.

Although most regions in Alaska have seen migration losses, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough grew by 1,612 people last year. The majority of them moved from Anchorage. Since 2010, the area has averaged net gains of more than 1,200 per year.

Also increasing is the number of Alaskans born in the state, which grew from 32 percent in 1980 to 41 percent last year.

Statistics for the report were compiled from Permanent Fund Dividend applications, Internal Revenue Service migration data and the U.S. Census Bureau.

The report can be viewed at labor.alaska.gov/trends/mar18.pdf.

Contact staff writer Robin Wood at 459-7510. Follow him on Twitter:@FDNMcity.