Town population drops 86 in 1 year
The Haines Borough was one of the fastest-shrinking communities in Alaska last year, losing 3.34 percent of its population. It also snagged the No. 1 spot for the state’s oldest population, according to statistics recently released by the state.
According to the Alaska Department of Labor and Workplace Development, the population dropped by 86 people: from 2,616 in July 2012 to 2,530 in July 2013.
The only census areas that shrunk more than Haines in the past year were the Denali Borough (minus 4.2 percent) and the Bristol Bay Borough (minus 5.52 percent).
The majority of the 86-person drop came from outward migration. In the past year, 80 more people left the borough than moved in.
The town’s population naturally decreased by six people in the last year, meaning there were six more deaths than births. (The department reported 13 births and 19 deaths from 2012-2013).
Eddie Hunsinger, a state demographer, said he doesn’t think the drop is indicative of a downward trend.
“It’s not something that when we were reviewing it we thought, ‘This is a significant issue or concern.’ It could definitely pop back up in another year,” Hunsinger said. “We don’t see any clear message that Haines is on the decline.”
Though Hunsinger said the 86-person drop is probably nothing to worry about and could rebound easily, he did acknowledge it is the biggest single-year drop Haines has seen since 2000.
Last year, the state predicted the borough’s population had basically flat-lined. Though the population grew by 106 people from 2010-2011, it increased by only six people from 2011-2012.
“Our projection for the Haines Borough is not much change in total population – some slight increases in the next 10 to 20 years, but nothing dramatic at all,” Hunsinger said.
The data from Haines shows several unique qualities, Hunsinger said.
For one, most places in Alaska have relatively steady growth through natural increase (babies being born more frequently than people dying off). Haines doesn’t follow that trend, Hunsinger said.
“That’s not common in the state. Most places have net gains through natural increase,” Hunsinger said.
Tying into that anomaly is another striking fact about Haines: At 48 years old, it has the oldest median age of any borough or census area in the state. The state average is 34.3 years old.
“Haines is continuing to get older. It’s got a large group of baby boomers and they are continuing to age and the generations younger than them aren’t quite as big,” Hunsinger said.
Mayor Stephanie Scott said she isn’t worried about the drop, since between 2010-2013 there is still a .27 percent rate of growth.
“Historically, it’s not a drop. We are growing. I look at the big picture. I think growth is in our very real future,” Scott said, pointing to projects like the Veterans Village as evidence that more people will move to Haines.
Regarding the increased outward migration, Scott acknowledged the harsh job climate might drive people away.
“Jobs are not easy to come by in Haines, depending on your ethic. I think if somebody really wants to work in Haines and really wants to stay here...you’re going to find work here and you’re going to be able to stay,” Scott said, referencing residents who stay for quality of life reasons.