Why is Alaska’s population so low?

Alaska is the biggest state in the US, almost twice the size of Texas in landmass. The state alone accounts for about 17% of the total US land area. But it also has a very low population, with less than one million people living here. So, why is Alaska’s population so low?

Alaska has over 734,000 living in it. This means it has the lowest population density in the US, and its population has declined in recent years. The low population here is due to the harsh weather conditions, geographical boundaries, high cost of living, limited jobs, and lack of infrastructure.

Although Alaska’s population might seem small, the state has a larger population than the neighboring Canadian territories of Yukon, Nunavut, and Northwest Territories combined. Here, we discuss the reasons behind the low population in Alaska.

Population of Alaska

Alaska’s population is one of the lowest in the country despite its size. The state has a population of 734,323 people, since peaking at over 740,000 people in 2016. Its population has been reducing in recent years. In 2020, it will be reduced by 0.5%. The population decline is mostly because many people are leaving the state.

Along with that, the birth rate here is quite low. Although people are also moving into the state, the population of immigrants is lower than that of emigrants. This population decline happened in 23 out of the 30 boroughs in the state.

Factors Responsible for The Low Population of Alaska

The low population of Alaska is due to several social and natural factors, which include:

1.  Harsh Weather Conditions

One of the primary reasons for the low population here is the weather. Alaska weather isn’t for everyone. It’s not for most people. That’s why most people only come here during the summer. The temperature during winter can be as low as 20 to −10 °F, which is −7 to −23 °C. The state receives 74 inches of snowfall and 31 inches of rainfall.

The cold here and the near darkness during the winter, including 24-hour darkness during the winter solstice, discourage people. Even if you’re used to experiencing cold weather, that of Alaska is different and lasts longer for about 8 months of the year here. Of course, some people like this, but their population is small. Many people that move here end up leaving after a while. Most tourists also visit in the summer when the weather is at its best.

Beyond the general harshness of the weather, it also comes with hazards. In Alaska, winter storms, tsunamis, floods, wildfires, volcanoes, and landslides are common. Due to the remoteness and size of the state, responding to these hazards on time can be quite tricky. This further makes it discouraging for people to move here.

2.  Geography

The state geography also makes most parts uninhabitable and many parts inaccessible. There are mountains, lakes, swamps, etc., in different parts. Only a few parts of the state have what will qualify as a habitable place. Even the habitable areas are remote. There are several areas in the state where there are no roads. The terrain here makes it difficult to access some areas. Getting to some places means passing through mountain ranges, volcanoes, swamp lands, glaciers, rocky tundra, etc. 

The only way to get to some parts of Alaska is by using water planes. This remoteness means that there are several small villages in the state. Alaska is mostly a vast wilderness with very few urban areas. The state is tough to lone in and not for everyone.

3.  Cost Of Living

Another reason for the low population here is the high cost of living. Due to other factors such as its remoteness and extreme weather, the state costs more to live in. Its cost of living is 25.8% higher than the national average.

Traveling around the state will cost you more. You might have to take a flight or use ferries to access some areas. Even if you’re driving, your regular cars may work in Alaska. The weather makes it necessary to have cars designed to survive the snow. Most people here drive trucks and utility vehicles. But if you’re driving a regular car, it’ll have to be front-wheel drive. You’ll also need to get the right kind of tires for the cars.

Besides that, you’ll spend more money on heating bills and housing here costs more. Considering this, you realize that even the high wages may not be enough to meet your cost of living. Even the Permanent Fund Dividend and lack of state income tax aren’t enough to make some people stay. The cities are usually the best place to live in Alaska unless you enjoy the wilderness. But the cities are also the most expensive.

4.  General Lack of Infrastructure

There’s also a general lack of infrastructure in the state. Most of the economic activities here that happen within the state are extractive, such as logging or mining. These activities don’t usually encourage economic development or improve the infrastructure. Even the fishing industry, one of the biggest in the state, has most of its headquarters in Seattle. The infrastructure here is usually in the major cities,

5.  Jobs

Despite the population, there aren’t many jobs available. The easiest jobs in the state are seasonal, and the pay might not be worth the stress and high cost of living. Due to the low economic activities here, your chances of getting a great job are very limited. The governments are one of the biggest employers in the state. But there are only so many people that they can employ.

Even if there are jobs in Alaska, it’s possible to get similar or even better jobs in the lower 48 states, where the conditions are much better. As more employment opportunities open up in contiguous parts of the US, many people are moving out of Alaska and returning to the mainland instead.

In Conclusion

To live in Alaska is not self-sufficient to an extent. The conditions here are very different from what you’ll find in other parts of the US, influencing people’s decisions on whether to move. With its lower immigration and birth rate, Alaska has the lowest population density of all the states in the US.