Poverty Rates in Alaska: Alaskan Cities Prosper, But Native Alaskans are Left to Freeze

Contributing writer David Boston, writing for Suite101.com, examines the bleak future facing Alaska Natives in Governor Sarah Palin’s home state.

The Bush Administration has made tax cut after tax cut against Native Alaskan programs. Without funding for relocated housing, people could be literally left to freeze.

With a poverty rate of 10.0%, Alaska has the 11th lowest poverty in the United States, a position it shares with the state of Nebraska.

This is just slightly better than the poverty rate of Colorado, and just slightly higher than the poverty rate of Massachusetts.

Where the Worst Poverty in Alaska Occurs

The poverty in Alaska largely occurs on its west coastline and the Yukon-Koyukuk area (see map below article). This area is the most extremely rural area in the United States, meaning that the population density in this area never rises above an average of 0.4 people per square mile in any borough (county).

To put this population density into perspective, this is very much in contrast with Alaskan cities like Fairbanks, which fits 948.7 people per square mile. Or even New York City, which crams in an amazing 26,402.9 people per square mile.

The following Boroughs (Counties) are experiencing critical levels of poverty, defined by being at least 50% over the state average:

  • Bethel (20.7%)
  • Dillingham (17.6%)
  • Lake and Peninsula (16.6%)
  • Nome (18.2%)
  • Northwest Arctic (18.0%)
  • Wade Hampton (26.0%)
  • Yukon-Koyukuk (18.6%)

None of the three major Alaskan cities are experiencing critical levels of poverty.

Why the Worst Poverty in Alaska Exists

According to the United States Census, every one of the poverty-critical boroughs (counties) is home to a majority of Native Alaskans. While every borough not experiencing critical levels of poverty except for one, North Slope, is home to a majority of white residents. All three of Alaska’s major cities are the same way.

This extreme isolation makes it hard for people living in these remote rural areas of Alaska to obtain valuable information, health care, employment, and education.

The isolation of the region makes it an unattractive place to set up a business or industry for anyone who isn’t there to drill oil. Many teachers and health care professionals may also think twice before taking a job in a small town of the rural arctic.

All of this aside, it is important to keep in mind that the reasons for poverty are as unique as the individuals who live through it. Though finding trends in a specific area is important, no generalization can account for everyone.

What is Being Done about Poverty in Alaska

Unfortunately, more is being done to worsen the poverty situation in the critical poverty areas of Alaska then is being done to help it.

According to the Alaska Federation of Natives, the Bush Administration has just cut funding for several key Alaskan Native educational programs out of the FY 2009 budget.

The Even Start Program, which supports early childhood development in the most remote areas of Alaska, has been cut for 2009. The Alaska Native Education Equity Act, which developed a variety of culturally appropriate courses and strengthened early childhood education programs, has been cut for 2009.

And the Strengthening Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian-Serving Institutions Programs, which established essential partnerships with regional organizations and businesses, have been cut for 2009.

Not only that, but housing programs have been cut, and the Native Alaskan calls for assistance in erosion-reduction and relocation costs have fallen on deaf ears. Since many Native villages are on the western coast of Alaska, this means a lot to them.

The future well-being of Alaskans living in poverty will seem to depend jointly on the willingness of others to lend them their voices, and the ability of their government to listen.

Poverty Rates in Alaska: Alaskan Cities Prosper, But Native Alaskans are Left to Freeze


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