Clark County profile

Washington state map with Clark county highlighted by Scott Bailey, regional labor economist - updated December, 2020

Overview | Geographic facts | Outlook | Labor force and unemployment | Industry employment | Wages and income | Population | Useful links | PDF Profile copy

Overview

Regional context

Clark County is located in southwest Washington on the Columbia River, roughly 100 miles upstream from the Pacific Ocean. It is the fifth most populous county in the state, and has a large employment base that has been diversifying into headquarters and upper-end services. Clark has had the strongest recovery of any county in the state since the onset of the 2008 recession.

The county is part of the Portland Metropolitan Area, and its economy can be understood only in that context: about a third of the county’s labor force commutes to Portland on a daily basis, while only about 11,000 commute in the opposite direction. The county is also in a unique position tax-wise: Washington has a sales tax but no income tax, while Oregon has an income tax but no sales tax. Clark County has excellent transportation linkages, including proximity to Portland International Airport, location on east-west and north-south rail lines, and immediate access to Interstate 5 and 205 north-south and Interstate 84 heading east.

Local economy

Before the advent of Europeans, the area around Clark County was part of a densely-settled region of native tribes (primarily the Chinook) along the Columbia River. The area was rich in salmon, the high-protein camas root, wapato, bitterroot and berries, along with deer, elk and waterfowl. There was an active trade network with tribes throughout the Northwest. Between 1820 and 1850 diseases brought by traders and fur trappers killed off many natives (up to 90 percent in some cases), and from 1850 onward, U.S. troops forced natives to move to reservations. Fort Vancouver served as a holding center for Indians captured in wars in other parts of the Northwest, before they were forcibly settled elsewhere.

White settlers began arriving in large numbers in the 1850s, initially drawn by farmland and timber. In fact, the first apple tree in the state is still standing there. The Camas paper mill was started in the 1870s. The cheap power from damming the Columbia helped spur industrialization, including an aluminum smelter built in the late 1930s that closed in 2001 following the Enron energy price manipulation.

In the 1970s, the county began to attract investment in electronics, which became its most important industry in the 1990s and remains so today, despite the loss of one-third of its employment base in the 2001 recession. Wafertech, Hewlett Packard, SEH America and Linear Semiconductor remain important employers.

Employment grew rapidly in all sectors during the 1990s, but slowed after the 2001 recession. Construction and homebuilding remained strong until the housing bubble burst in 2006 through 2007. The county lost 6 percent of its employment base in the downturn, about the same as the state and nation, but by late 2019 was 23 percent above its pre-recession peak, compared with 16 percent for the state and 10 percent for the nation. Growth has been spurred by the relocation of the headquarters of both PeaceHealth and Banfield Pet Hospital, the expansion of Fisher Investment and the opening of the Ilani Casino. A major new development on the Columbia River waterfront is changing the face of Vancouver. The plan includes two hotels, 3,300 condo and apartment units, office space, retail outlets and restaurants and a public park with a pier stretching 90 feet out over the river. A public market is also a possibility. The first phase is well under way; several buildings and the pier has been completed, and new buildings are under construction. Finally, Vigor Industrial announced it would be investing $1 billion into the former Christensen yacht building facility, turning it into a production facility for a military barge contract that will eventually employ up to 400 workers onsite.

Major industry sectors in Clark County include healthcare and social assistance (25,200 jobs in 2019), professional and business services (20,700), retail trade (18,700 jobs), leisure and hospitality (16,500 jobs) and manufacturing (14,200 jobs). In addition, government employed 27,300, almost half of which were in public education.

Source: Employment Security Department/LMEA, County data tables

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Geographic facts

Clark  County Rank in state
 Land area, 2010 (square miles) 629  35 
 People per square mile, 2019 776.63


Source: Washington State Office of Financial Management


Outlook

In 2020, it was all things COVID-19. Employment cratered, and unemployment skyrocketed in April. A recovery began in June but by October had slowed considerably. The spiking of cases in November has led to an upsurge in unemployment claims. With the promise of vaccines on the horizon, further recovery will depend on how quickly the vaccines become widely available.


Labor force and unemployment

Current labor force and unemployment statistics are available on the Labor area summaries page on ESD’s labor market information website.

Clark County’s unemployment rate was below the state and national averages throughout the 1990s, but has been above both since 2000. The financial meltdown and subsequent recession widened the gap to four percentage points in 2010. Unemployment has dropped since then due to job growth, but remains higher than average, with an average of 4.7 percent in 2019, vs. 4.0 percent for the Portland Metro area, 4.3 percent statewide, and 3.7 percent nationally. In 2020, the COVID-19 recession pushed the county’s rate up to 14.6 percent in May, before it dropped to 6.5 percent in October. Note that April 2020 rates across the country were underestimated by up to five percentage points, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, due to issues with how some survey questions were answered. The underestimate for May was up to four points, before becoming much smaller in subsequent months.

Estimates of the county labor force and employed residents should be used with caution, since their trend is significantly different—much weaker growth—than has been shown by nonfarm employment, a more trustworthy data series. For example, official estimates show the number of employed residents increasing by 14 percent from 2008 to 2019, well below the 24 percent for nonfarm employment.

The labor force participation rate, as measured through the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, was 64.2 percent in 2019, about four points lower than a decade earlier. The decline was partly due to demographic trends—labor force participation declines sharply over the age of 54, and so the overall rate would drop as more baby-boomers reached that age—but the drop was much sharper (which occurred around the 2008-09 recession) than for the state and nation. The participation rate for the prime-working-age population—those aged 25 to 54—decreased slightly to 83.4 percent in 2019, slightly higher than the state and nation.

Source: Employment Security Department/LMEA, County data tables

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Industry employment

Current industry employment statistics are available on the Labor area summaries page.

From 2000 to 2019, Clark County nonfarm employment grew almost three times faster than the nation, and 58 percent faster than the state. During the 2008 through 2009 recession, employment fell by 6 percent, closely tracking the state and nation. A slow recovery started in 2010 and in early 2013 hiring accelerated and was exceedingly strong before moderating in 2018 through 2019.  In the first two months of the COVID-19 recession, the county lost 19,700 jobs, 11.4 percent of its employment base. According to preliminary November estimates, only 7,200 of those jobs had come back.

Some detail:

  • Construction and mining employed 15,700 in 2019, well over the peak employment in the housing bubble years. Since bottoming out in 2011, construction has averaged 9 percent growth per year, and has consistently been the one of the fastest-growing industries in the county. In 2019, the number of housing unit permits issued reached 4,722, the most since 1997. Multifamily housing was particularly strong, with the third-highest total on record. Single-family housing has recovered from recession lows, while still being well below the levels observed back in the 1990s. A variety of commercial and industrial projects have kept contractors busy, pushed costs up and led to labor shortages.
    • In 2020, construction slowed a bit, with employment dropping by 500 jobs (3.1 percent) year-over-year through November. Housing remained strong—through October, permits had been issued for over 3,800 housing units, only 1 percent below the same period for 2019. The number of single-family homes permitted was up slightly, while multi-family was down slightly. A number of large new commercial developments were announced as well.
  • Manufacturing employed 14,200 in 2019, the same as in 2018. This industry was hit harder by the 2001 recession than the one in 2008. Electronics continued to be the largest segment with 3,300 employees, followed by metal fabrication (1,700 jobs), food processing (1.400 jobs) and machinery (1,300 jobs).
    • While manufacturing took a hit in April 2020, by November it had mostly recovered, short only a few hundred jobs over the year.
  • Wholesale trade employment was also unchanged in 2019 at 6,800 jobs.
    • Wholesale trade dropped by 400 jobs (6 percent) when COVID-19 hit, with little in the way of a hiring recovery through 2020.
  • In part due to the increase in online shopping, employment in retail trade fell by 200 jobs (1 percent) to 18,700 in 2019. Consumer spending continued to be strong, with taxable sales at retail outlets up an inflation-adjusted 6.0 percent over 2018, despite sluggish auto sales (-2.2 percent).
    • Retailers took a big hit in 2020, with employment dropping initially by 11 percent, but also had a sharp recovery, with staffing down 3 percent over the year in November 2020. Inflation-adjusted taxable sales at retail outlets were 11 percent higher in the second quarter of 2020 than the same quarter in 2019, again despite weakness in auto sales (-25 percent).
  • After a decade of flat employment, transportation and warehousing added 200 jobs in both 2018 and 2019. Total employment reached 4,500
    • The COVID-19 recession led to a loss of 300 jobs.
  • Information services employed 2,900 in 2019, down 100 jobs from the previous year.
    • This sector lost over 100 jobs in the first few months of the recession, and then slid more for a total loss of 300 jobs.
  • The financial activities sector has been a steady job creator since 2011, averaging over 5 percent growth per year. Last year brought another 300 jobs for a total of 9,400. Growth has been evenly split between finance & insurance and real estate, rental & leasing.
    • Finance and insurance was one of the few industries not affected by COVID-19; it posted a 300 job gain over the year in November 2020. Real estate, rental and leasing lost 200 jobs after COVID-19 hit, and was unchanged over the year.
  • Professional and business services added 900 jobs this past year, employing 20,700. Professional services was up 300 jobs to 9,200, with 100 of the increase in computer systems design. Corporate office employment rose by 500 jobs to 3,800, in part due to a reclassification of employment from one industry to another. Percentagewise, corporate offices have been the fastest-growing industry in the county over the past decade, due in large part to the relocation of the headquarters of PeaceHealth and Banfield Pet Hospital. Business services, the third part of this sector, gained 200 jobs—mostly in staffing services—to reach 7,800 in 2019.
    • Professional services lost 200 jobs in April but had gained them back and then some by November. Corporate offices also lost 200 jobs early on, with 100 coming back. Business services took a big hit in April (-1,300 jobs/-16 percent), with only a third of those being refilled by November.
  • Private educational services added 200 jobs to reach 2,300 total employment in 2019. This industry has grown steadily for more than a decade, doubling its payrolls in that time period. Most of the increase in jobs has not been in private schools per se, but in small businesses which provide services like test prep, gym/dance/martial arts instruction, etc.
    • This industry lost 300+ jobs in April and had gained few of those back by November.
  • Healthcare and social assistance employed 25,200 in 2019, a 400 job gain over 2018, with much of the increase in staffing coming in hospitals.
    • Health care was hit hard initially with the suspension of elective surgery and patients deferring regular checkups. Medical offices initially cut 2,100 jobs, before restoring 1,800 by November. Hospitals and nursing facilities cut about 100 each but brought staff back in the ensuing months.
  • Leisure and hospitality employed 16,500 in 2019, up 400 jobs over the year. Most of the increase was food services. Restaurant sales increased by 4 percent over 2018. The Vancouver waterfront area has added a number of restaurants and wine-tasting rooms, and several hotels are either planned or under construction. Lodging sales increased by almost 3 percent in 2019. Arts, entertainment and recreation, the other industry within this sector, inched up 100 jobs to 2,400.
    • This sector was the hardest hit in the first two months of the recession, losing 5,800 jobs (35 percent). Arts, entertainment and recreation lost 1,300 jobs (-55 percent) as public health regulations impacted gaming establishments, fitness centers, bowling alleys and other recreation centers. Few of those jobs had returned by November. The lodging industry lost 500 jobs, also with little in the way of recovery. Full-service restaurants lost 2,300 jobs, with 800 coming back, while limited-service restaurant employment declined by 1,400, and were more than halfway recovered by November
  • Other services include repair and maintenance services, personal and laundry services, and a range of non-profit community groups. This sector employed 6,300 in 2019, up 100 from 2018.
    • Initially, personal services, which include hair styling, took the biggest hit from COVID-19, but that industry also had the best recovery. Overall, the sector lost 1,000 jobs in the first two months of the recession, and had regained only 200 of those over the next five months.
  • Public sector payrolls grew by 400 jobs in 2019. Half of the increase was in the non-educational side of local government—cities, the county, and other small districts. K-12 education was up 100 jobs, as was federal employment. There were 27,300 government jobs in the county.
    • In 2020, state government lost 200 jobs, mostly in higher education. K-12 public education was hit with severe budget cuts at the beginning of the 2020 through 2021 school year. Combined with earlier, smaller losses in the spring, staffing was down 2,600 jobs (21 percent). Other local government agencies employed 400 fewer in November than in February

For historical industry employment data, contact an economist.

Source: Employment Security Department

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Agriculture

According to the 2017 Census of Agriculture, there were 750 farms in the county, with a total of more than half a million acres and $99 million in sales. The fruits, tree nuts and berries category accounted for $64 million in sales—the county has extensive production of cherries and wine grapes. There were almost $10 million in sales of cattle and calves, and $8 million in grains, oilseeds, dry beans and dry peas—mostly in wheat.

Industry employment by age and gender

The Local Employment Dynamics (LED) database, a joint project of state employment departments and the U.S. Census Bureau, matches state employment data with federal administrative data. Among the products is industry employment by age and gender. All workers covered by state unemployment insurance data are included; federal workers and non-covered workers, such as the self-employed, are not. Data are presented by place of work, not place of residence.

Clark County highlights:

In 2019, 14 percent of the jobs in Clark County were held by workers under the age of 25, while 22 percent of jobs were held by those aged 55 and over. The rest of the jobs were evenly split among those aged 25 to 34, 35 to 44 and 45 to 54 with each about 21 to 22 percent of the total. The county’s age profile closely matches that of the state. After big demographic changes in the 1990 through 2007 period due to the aging of the Baby Boomers, the share of employment by age has been relatively stable over the past decade.

Jobs were almost evenly divided between men (49 percent) and women (51 percent) in 2019. There were substantial differences in gender dominance by industry.

  • Male-dominated industries included construction (79 percent), manufacturing (73 percent), transportation and warehousing (74 percent) and wholesale trade (68 percent).

  • Female-dominated industries included healthcare and social assistance (80 percent), educational services (public and private combined, 73 percent), corporate offices (65 percent) and finance and insurance (55 percent).

Source: The Local Employment Dynamics


Wages and income

When it comes to average wages:

  • The inflation-adjusted average has risen almost every year for the past two decades.

  • The 2019 average annual wage for jobs in the county was $55,625, well below the state ($69,615) and national ($59,209) averages.

Averages varied widely by industry, as shown in the following table:

Average wages by industry in Clark County

 Industry  NAICS  Average annual wage  Median hourly wage 
 All industries  $55,625 $23.24
 Higher wage industries  
 Corporate Offices  55 $99,943 $47.81
 Finance & Insurance  52 $94,989 $31.15
 Professional Services  54 $81,118 $32.72
 Wholesale Trade  42 $78,382 $27.89
 Lower wage industries 
 Accommodations & food services  72 $21,868 $13.96
 Arts, entertainment & recreation  71 $23,704 $15.90
 Private educational services  62 $29,611 $20.85
 Retail trade  44-45 $34,345 $16.06

Note: Average annual wage is for 2019, median hourly wage is for 2018.

Source: Employment Security Department/LMEA, County data tables

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There were wide disparities in wages by age, gender, education and race in the county, as shown in the following tables. Notably, wages for Black, Indigenous, Pacific Island, and Latinx workers averaged around 80 percent or less than the average for all workers. These gaps have held since 1990 (the first year this data was first available). Wages for female workers averaged 69 percent of wages for male workers.

Average monthly wage, 2019

Average monthly wage Percent of total
 Total $4,943 100%
 Non-Latinx: - -
 Black $3,871 78%
 Indigenous $4,078 82%
 Asian American $5,555 112%
 Pacific Islander $3,630 73%
 White $5,113 103%
 Multi-racial $4,284 87%
 Latinx $3,694 75%
 Male $5,898 119%
 Female $4,057 82%
 Age:
 14-18 $1,064 22%
 19-21 $1,982 40%
 22-24 $2,816 57%
 25-34 $4,231 86%
 35-44 $5,592 113%
 45-54 $6,126 124%
 55-64 $5,745 116%
 65+ $3,903 79%
 Education (ages 30 and older):
  Did not complete high school $4,115 83%
  High school diploma/GED only $4,535 92%
  Some college, including AA degree $5,008 101%
  Bachelor’s or higher $6,757 137%
Note: Includes all non-federal “full-quarter” jobs covered by unemployment insurance.

Source: Employment Security Department/LMEA

With rising wage inequality, it’s important to look beyond the average to get a more detailed look at wage distribution. The four major conclusions:

  • Wages paid by Clark County employers have been increasing across the wage spectrum.

  • Wage inequality has also increased.

  • The number of higher-wage jobs has been growing faster than average.

  • The minimum wage has pushed wages up on the low end faster than average.

The median hourly wage for jobs in Clark County in 2018 was $23.23, a solid increase (3.8 percent) over 2017. The median for private sector jobs grew even faster, at 2.0 percent. Clark’s median was more than $2 per hour below the state median of $25.98 per hour.

The county has been seeing an increase in the number and pay of higher-wage jobs. From 2001 to 2018, the total number of jobs increased by 34 percent, while the number of those paying above $48.00 per hour more than doubled. The average wage for the top 10 percent of jobs rose by 22 percent over that period, while the median hourly wage rose by 9.5 percent. The rapid growth in higher-wage jobs was welcome news, the growing disparity in wages, not so much.

During the recession, there were substantially higher losses for low- and medium-wage jobs than for higher-wage jobs, as shown in the following table. For example, the number of jobs paying below $12 per hour fell by 10.7 percent, while the number of those paying above $30 per hour declined by only 2.4 percent. In the recovery, the number of jobs paying below $12 per hour continued to decline, as the minimum wage crept upward, while there was a substantial increase in jobs in higher-wage categories. Overall, from 2007 to 2018, jobs paying below $12 per hour declined by half, as the increase in the minimum wage pushed jobs into the next highest wage bracket, which grew faster than average. Jobs around the median wage grew at an average pace, while those paying $30 per hour and higher increased by almost 45 percent. The industries with the largest change in higher-wage jobs were health care, finance and corporate headquarters (NAICS 55).

Percent change in the number of full-time-equivalent jobs by hourly wage in Clark County

Hourly wage range
YearsAll jobs<$12.00$12.00 - $17.99$18.00 - $23.99$24.00 - $29.99$30+
2007-2010 -6.3% -10.7% -12.6% -7.3% -8.1% -2.4%
2010-2018 29.4% -50.2% 57.1% 31.5% 39.0% 48.2%
2007-2018 21.2% -55.6% 37.3% 21.9% 27.8% 44.6%

Note: percentages are not additive because of the change in base year (2007 vs. 2010)

Focusing again on wage disparity, the next table shows that the average wage for the lowest-paid 20 percent of jobs rose by 18.4 percent from 2007 to 2018. The average wage for jobs in the middle rose by 9.7 percent. Meanwhile jobs at the upper end of the wage spectrum paid 18.4 percent higher on average.

Percent change in the average hourly wage in Clark County

Wage groups
YearsLowest-paid 20 percent of jobsNext 20 percent of jobsMiddle-paid 20 percent of jobsNext 20 percent of jobsNext 10 percent of jobsHighest-paid 10 percent of jobs
2007-2010 1.2% 2.2% 2.6% 2.8% 4.5% 3.9%
2010-2018 17.0% 9.0% 6.9% 7.7% 9.5% 14.0%
2007-2018 18.4% 11.5% 9.7% 10.7% 14.4% 18.4%
Source: Employment Security Department/LMEA, County data tables

Not surprisingly, median household income declined sharply in the recession, falling 9.7 percent from 2007 to 2010 – compared with 4.4 percent for the state and 5.8 percent nationally. From 2010 to 2019, however, the median rose by 27.8 percent, the state by 23.2 percent, and the U.S. by 14.4 percent. Clark County’s 2019 median household income of $80,555 was higher than both the state ($78,687) and the nation ($65,712).

The good news: household incomes have been going up on average across the board during the past decade. However, incomes became increasingly unequal at the same time. Income for the poorest 20 percent of households was estimated at $21,806 in 2019, an increase of 14.3 percent from 2006 to 2019. The average income for the top 20 percent of households was $288,673 in 2019 and grew by 18.3 percent over that same period. The top 5 percent (at $388,867) had grown at an even faster 19.2 percent. Research has indicated that household surveys (like the Census) do not accurately capture incomes at the upper end—average incomes for the top 20 and 5 percent are likely significantly higher than stated here

Average household income by quintile, Clark County, 2019

Income quintiles
YearsLowest quintileSecond quintileMiddle quintileFourth quintileFifth quintileTop 5 percent
Income
2019 $21,806 $51,308 $80,253 $116,017 $228,673 $388,867
Change, 2006-2019 14.3% 13.3% 16.9% 16.8% 18.3% 19.2%
Source: Employment Security Department/LMEA, County data tables

Change in average household income by quintile, 2006-2019

Change in household income 2000 to 2017

Source: Employment Security Department/LMEA, County data tables

Clark County’s poverty rate rose from 9.3 percent in 2007 to 13.7 percent in 2011, before falling to 9.2 percent in 2019, below the state (9.8 percent) and nation (12.3 percent). The poverty rate for children was higher, but followed the same pattern, going from 11.0 percent to 18.0 percent then down to 12.8 percent.

Personal income

Personal income includes earned income, investment income, and government payments such as Social Security and Veterans Benefits. Investment income includes income imputed from pension funds and from owning a home. Per capita personal income equals total personal income divided by the resident population.

In 2019, Clark County per capita personal income was $56,401, the highest on record. Per capita earned income and transfer payments were also at all-time highs, while per capita investment income was slightly below the 2018 level. County per capita income was slightly lower than the national average of $56,490, mainly due to lower Medicare and Medicaid payments.

(Source: Employment Security Department; Bureau of Labor Statistics; Bureau of Economic Analysis; U.S. Census Bureau; U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey)

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Population

Clark County’s population was estimated at 499,200 as of April 1, 2020. The county was the fastest growing in the state in the 1990s, and one of the faster ones in the 2000s until the recession hit. Growth in the past was spurred by in-migration of new residents, but in 2010, more people moved out of the county than moved in for the first time since 1984. In-migration turned (barely) positive in 2011, and then roared back in 2014 to 2020. Vancouver was the largest city in the county, and the fourth largest in the state, with a population of 183,500 in 2018.

Population facts

Clark County Washington state
 Population 2020 499,200  7,656,200 
 Population 2000 345,238  5,894,143 
 Percent change, 2000 to 2020 44.6%  29.9% 

Source: Employment Security Department/LMEA, County data tables

Age, gender and ethnicity

When compared with the state and nation, Clark County’s population has a greater proportion of its population between the ages of 5 and 19 years old, a smaller proportion aged 20 to 34, and somewhat more in the 40 to 59 age group and only slightly more elderly.

The county is much less diverse in terms of race and ethnicity than the state and nation, but has been slowly getting more diverse. In 2019, 78 percent of Clark’s population was white and not Latinx, compared with 68 percent statewide. Almost 10.2 percent of Clark County’s population was Latinx, versus 13 percent for the state.

Demographics

Clark County Washington state
 Population by age, 2019
Under 5 years old 6.0%  6.0% 
Under 18 years old 23.5%  21.8% 
65 years and older 16.0%  15.9% 
 Females, 2019 50.5%  50.0% 
 Population by race/ethnicity, 2019
White alone 86.1%  78.5% 
White alone, not Latinx 77.5%  67.5% 
African American 2.4%  4.4% 
African American, not Latinx 2.1%  3.7% 
American Indian, Alaskan Native 1.2%  1.9% 
American Indian, Alaskan Native, not Hispanic or Latinx 0.7%  1.3% 
Asian American 5.0%  9.6% 
Asian American, not Latinx 4.8%  8.5% 
Native Hawaiian, Other Pacific Islander 0.9%  0.8% 
Native Hawaiian, Other Pacific Islander, not Latinx 0.8%  0.7% 
Two or more races 4.3%  4.9% 
Two or more races, not Latinx 3.8%  4.3% 
Latinx, any race 10.2%  13.0% 

Source: Employment Security Department/LMEA, County data tables

Educational attainment

In 2019, 30.6 percent of Clark County residents age 25 and older had a bachelor’s degree or higher. That was lower than the nation (32.1 percent) and state (36.0 percent). As Clark County has continued to attract more managerial and professional jobs, the county’s educational attainment has moved closer to the state and nation.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts

  

Useful links

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