Despite being the largest of the 50 states geographically, with a land area of 571,951 square miles, Alaska's population is one of the smallest. With just 735,132 residents as of 2015, only Vermont and Wyoming are less inhabited. In many respects, Alaska remains true to its nickname, the “Last Frontier.” Boasting more miles of coastline than the 48 contiguous states combined, Alaska is a transportation challenge. The capital Juneau, like many other Alaskan towns, is only accessible by air or water, and the state has been described as the least connected by roads of any in the country.
Alaska became the 49th state in 1959 after it was originally purchased from Russia in 1867 for $7.2 million. The acquisition of Alaska was ridiculed at the time as “Seward's Folly” (after Secretary of State William Seward), but ultimately Alaska proved valuable to the U.S economy. Today, Alaska's major industry (representing approximately 85% of state revenues) is petroleum products, but the state accounts for just 7% of the nation's oil production, a sharp drop from the late ‘80s when it produced 25%. Alaskan oil is pumped out of the enormous oilfield at Prudhoe Bay in the north to the Port of Valdez through the 800-mile-long Trans-Alaska Pipeline, itself an engineering feat that required two years and $7.7 billion to construct in the 1970s.
The importance of oil industry jobs – which account for one-third of all jobs in the state - helps explain why Alaska has the highest ratio of males to females in the U.S. as well as the second highest median household income at around $70,000. Yet while earnings are high, so are living expenses. In fact, they’re the fourth highest in the U.S. due to the cost of transporting consumer goods to Alaska as well as the steep cost of housing, utilities and healthcare. In 2015, the median home value was $254,114, while the median rental price was $1,389.
Alaska is the only state that has neither a state income tax nor a state sales tax (though many cities impose their own sales taxes) as the state government is largely funded through oil revenues. In 2014, qualified residents received a dividend of $1,884 per person from the Alaska Permanent Fund, created in 1976 to share oil royalties annually with future Alaskans. The total disbursement for 2014 was $1.1 billion, and since inception, the fund has paid out more than $17.5 billion.
Bountiful in natural resources, Alaska's other important industries include fishing and seafood processing, mining, tourism, agriculture and forestry and wood products. Its rugged topography, vast areas of unspoiled beauty and impressive native wildlife make Alaska very popular with the more than 1.1 million tourists who visit annually. Approximately 61% percent of the land area of Alaska is owned and managed by the federal government as part of 23 national forests, national parks and wildlife refuges. Mount McKinley, the highest peak in North America at 20,320 feet, and Denali National Park attract mountain climbers, campers and kayakers. The Alaska National Wildlife refuge, established in 1960, protects large mammal species such as polar bears, grey wolves and musk oxen. In 2012, the economic benefit of national park tourism in Alaska was just over a billion dollars.
Alaska's population is 14% native Alaskan or American Indian, the highest proportion of any state. The indigenous culture of the native Eskimos, Indians and Aleuts is still strong in Alaska. Reflective of this heritage is the most popular sporting event in Alaska, the Iditarod Trail Dog Sled Race, a 1,150-mile trek from Anchorage to Nome that attracts more than 70 team entrants every March.