Alaska’s natural population increase, which is births minus deaths, has fallen to its lowest level since 1951. This is expected to translate into a dramatic decline in the overall school age population, alongside a sharp rise in the number of senior citizens who will need care and medical services.

According to a new report from the Alaska Department of Labor, Alaska births decreased in 2022 for the eighth consecutive year. This was coupled with a 39% rise in overall deaths compared to pre-pandemic years.

Covid-era deaths were elevated in 2020 and 2021. In fact, from July 1, 2021, to June 30, 2022, there were 6,400 Alaskan deaths — 1,000 more than the previous year and 1,800 more than 2020.

With deaths up and births in decline, Alaska netted just 2,900 new residents through natural increase in 2022, the lowest amount since 1951 when Alaska had 575,000 fewer people.

This could lead to smaller school districts and schools with far greater building capacity than in previous years. This phenomenon will likely be felt immediately.

Alaska’s youth population is also in steady decline.

“Before 2015, Alaska’s population from birth to age 17 had been about the same size for 10 years,” Alaska Economic Trends reports. “Births in Alaska have been declining since 2016, falling by 400 to 500 a year for several consecutive years before the declines began to slow in 2019.”

This trend shrunk Alaska’s younger population, which could lead to even quicker declines in the coming years, the report warns.

“Alaska had 1,500 more 17-year-olds than newborns in 2022, and as these teens age into their working years, we will see steady and large declines in the 0-17 population as fewer babies replace them,” the report states. “Right now, the size of the population entering school (ages 5 to 17) isn’t much different from those aging out. In 2022, Alaska had 10,000 17-year-olds who will graduate this spring and 9,800 five-year-olds just beginning their school-age years.

“The school-age group will reflect this large decline in births in the coming years, though, and decreases in this group’s size will accelerate over the next five,” the report predicts.

This could lead to smaller school districts and schools with far greater building capacity than in previous years. This phenomenon will likely be felt immediately.

“In 2022, Alaska had 1,800 more 5-year-olds than newborns,” the report observes. “When this group of infants begins entering school, we will see the elementary age group start to shrink and then the middle and high school cohorts decrease as they get older.”

On the other end of the population spectrum, those 65 years and older are continuing to increase.

“The biggest story of the last decade was baby boomers turning 65,” the report notes. “Alaska’s senior population grew from 54,900 in 2010 to 94,000 in 2020, and this growth has not slowed. The senior population has grown 12 percent over the last two years alone, reaching 105,600 in 2022.”

That trend is expected to continue for the next two decades.

“Between 2020 and 2022, the number of elders rose 17 percent, from 30,100 to 35,100,” the report states. “The rise will accelerate in the coming years, and as it does, Alaska’s health care industry will have to ramp up to provide the needed services.”

Click here to support Alaska Watchman reporting.

Alaska deaths outpace births by widest margin since 1951

Joel Davidson
Joel is Editor-in-Chief of the Alaska Watchman. Joel is an award winning journalist and has been reporting for over 20 years, He is a proud father of 8 children, and lives in Palmer, Alaska.