February 7, 2013 | Volume 43, No. 5

Population grows to 2,620, but may level

The Haines Borough has grown by nearly 4.5 percent in the past two years, but state demographers are saying the current population of 2,620 has likely flat-lined and will not grow substantially beyond that for the next several decades.

The borough expanded from 2,508 people to 2,620 between 2010 to 2012, according to recently released population estimates from the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development. The population grew by 106 from 2010-2011, but increased only by six people from 2011-2012.

“This last year has been quite a bit slower than 2010-2011. It is another year of growth, but we don’t know if it will continue. We do know Southeast has the lowest growth due to natural increase, because of the older population and lower birth rates,” said Eddie Hunsinger, a state demographer.

The town’s population naturally increased by 16 people in the past two years, meaning there were 16 more births than deaths.

The borough has one of the lowest birth rates in the state, Hunsinger said. Because of that, Haines and Southeast in general need to have that much more net migration to grow as fast as the rest of the state.

Of the 112-person increase in the past two years, 96 of those were people moving into town. Mayor Stephanie Scott speculated the economic climate in the Lower 48 might be driving some of the in-migration.

“Apparently there are more employment opportunities in Alaska than elsewhere – even here in Haines.  However, the new residents are more apt to be people who are mobile (without families or retired), and thus the school population may not be positively affected,” Scott said.

Borough manager Mark Earnest said any population increase, however small, has a positive impact on the community.

“It has a direct effect on our state revenue sharing payments. That program is set up for per capita distribution. So that’s very good,” Earnest said.

Scott agreed, citing an observation Haines resident Bart Henderson made on a radio program several years ago: “There’s nothing that couldn’t be fixed in Haines by an extra 1,000 people.”

More people means lower sewer rates, lower harbor rates, and other benefits, Scott said. “Our cost per unit is high because we don’t have a lot of volume.”

Hunsinger said the Department of Labor, using historical data, does not expect Haines to continue growing; in fact, he does not predict a change in Haines’ population size over the next 25 years.

“I think our projection has been about the same for a long while. Here we predict little change in the total population, but certainly a lot of aging (of the population),” Hunsinger said. 

As a consequence of the low birth rate and in-migration of retirees, Haines is growing older, Hunsinger explained. According to the Department of Labor’s population projections, the median age of Haines will increase from 46.8 in 2010 to 50 in 2025 and will hover there for several more decades.

The statistics are based on large amounts of data, but they are just estimates, projections of what might occur, Hunsinger said.

“They are just one scenario based on the last 10 years or so of data that we’ve seen. But many different events could definitely change it dramatically. For a place like Haines, the projections have a great deal of uncertainty,” Hunsinger said.

Population estimates take into account only full-time residents. If people have second homes, they are asked to turn their census form in for the address where they spend the majority of the year, Hunsinger said.