Alaska might have ignored the opportunity to make lemonade of the COVID-19 lemon, but elsewhere others have gone looking for opportunities in the deadly pandemic driving death and fear around the globe.
Iceland is now not so quietly pitching itself as a pandemic hideaway.
Earlier this month, the island nation in the North Atlantic announced changes to its remote-work, visa program allowing foreign nationals, including Americans, to take up temporary residence in the country, Bloomberg reported.
“I think the idea is to attract high-earning professionals from Silicon Valley or San Francisco to spend their money here, instead of there,” Asta Gudrun Helgadottir, a member of Iceland’s pro-direct-democracy Pirate Party and a former parliament member, told Bloomberg reporter Brandon Presser.
Iceland is a foreign country with a SARS-CoV-2 infection rate of 1,563 cases per 100,000 people and a death rate of 7.6 per 100,000, according to today’s data at the Worldometers website. SARS-CoV-2 is the virus that makes some, though not all, sick with COVID-19.
Alaska is a U.S. state with a much higher infection rate – 4,040 per 100,000 – but a comparatively low (by COVID-19 standards) death rate of 16.1 per 100,000. That is slightly higher than Iceland, but a fraction of the rate in most other U.S. states.
For reasons that are unclear, the 49th state’s significant infection rate has not resulted in the number of deaths seen elsewhere, or at least not yet.
New Jersey, for instance, reports 3,758 infections per 100,000 residents, a rate slightly lower than that of Alaska, but the Garden State’s death rate is approaching 200 per 100,000, more than 12-times higher than the Alaska death rate.
The situation is similar in New York, where the death rate is about 10 times that of Alaska despite lower, per-capita infections, and Massachusetts where a relatively low rate of 3,180 infections per 100,000 people has translated into a death rate of 154 per 100,000, more than nine times the rate in Alaska.
Alaska might find it hard to attract “high-earning professionals from Silicon Valley or San Fransisco” given the status of COVID-19 in California – 3,013 cases per 100,000 with 48 deaths per 100,000. But the Route 128 tech sector of Massachusetts might be another matter.
Anyone who isn’t thinking about getting out of Boston now isn’t thinking. It’s the focal point of Massachusetts infections, and the state reports infection rates are now higher than they were at the peak of the pandemic back in March and April.
Death rates have lagged, but the odds are still higher COVID-19 will kill you in Boston than in Anchorage. And if you personally want to avoid the risk of infection – which fundamentally requires you stay away from other people – Anchorage has more to offer than Boston.
There are a lot more COVID-safe things you can do in the Alaska city to ease your angst – ski, skate, snowshoe, fat bike, hike, adventure – than in Boston, where there are pretty much people everywhere.
Anchorage and/or Alaska can’t put the same monetary constraints on refugees from the Lower 48 as Iceland can. To qualify for the extended-stay visa in Iceland, you have to show you earn $88,000 per year or more and work remotely, but it’s not like promoting Alaska’s largest city as a haven from COVID-19, not to mention climate change, is going to attract mobs of California street people.
Despite global warming, Anchorage winters are still cold enough to make life on the street miserable. Anyone relocating here is going to want to be able to make enough money to live in the city.
And if NPR is to be believed, there are plenty of people looking to relocate because of pandemic concerns. “Small Cities Are A Big Draw For Remote Workers During The Pandemic,” its website headlined at midmonth.
“Since COVID-19 has allowed people to work hundreds or thousands of miles from their company’s office, this trend appears to be speeding up dramatically,” said the story below. “More young, well-paid and well-educated people are relocating permanently from big metro areas such as Seattle, San Francisco, Boston and New York….”
Alaska, which has been bleeding residents for half the decade, could use an infusion of young, well-paid and well-educated people.
By now, a few are probably asking why Alaska would want to attract “Outsiders” to the great white north where visitors are sometimes detested almost as much as their infusion of cash is welcomed.
And the answer is simple: Economics are everything.
Survival depends on a functioning economic system. Once in Alaska, that system was subsistence. Today it is capitalism and the social welfare system taxes on business support.
The latter can’t function without the former, which is why the state is in the financial mess it is in at the moment. Oil revenues carried the state for years. But oil price faltered before the pandemic, and its continuation has the U.S. Energy Information Administration forecasting prices will remain more than 20 percent below 2019 through at least 2021, and 2019 was itself a bad year in the oil patch.
Alaska, meanwhile, has neither a state income nor sales tax and is short on other taxable industries. Commercial fishing hasn’t produced much in the way of state revenue since territorial days. Mining is limited, unpopular and not a great source of state funds. Tourism doesn’t yield much either other than the jobs provided as the state’s largest employer.
Some of those jobs help people buy homes in Anchorage, a city heavily dependent on property taxes. The municipality collected $556 million in property tax revenue last year to cover its budget, according to city records.
As more people leave the state – and the trend for years now has been net out-migration, according to the Department of Labor – those tax revenues are likely to fall and, if the out-migration gets big enough, property values will start dropping as well, further reducing tax revenues.
After a summer in which the Alaska tourism economy went bust, the 49th state finds itself in the same predicament as Iceland, a country where tourism was reported to account for about a third of the gross domestic product in 2019.
Tourists numbers were down 79 percent in Iceland this summer, Bloomberg reported.
“Although long-stay guests aren’t technically tourists,” Presser wrote, “the hope is that they’ll rent out unused Airbnbs, fill empty tables at restaurants, and head to the countryside on weekends to explore the country like slow-going travelers.
“Iceland isn’t the first place to lure the work-from-anywhere set with long-stay waivers. Bermuda, Barbados, the Cayman Islands, and Estonia have also used the strategy to garner foreign revenue during the tourism-depressed pandemic.”
Alaska doesn’t need to waive anything to allow fellow Americans fleeing the pandemic to take up residence in the state with one of the lowest COVID-19 death rates in the country, all it has to do is advertise the potential merit to the idea.
But it hasn’t done so.