Grant County profile

Washington state map with Grant county highlighted by Don Meseck, regional labor economist - updated October 2017

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


Regional context

In 1902, Grant County was carved out of Douglas County as its own county. Grant County is fourth largest in the state in terms of land area, but is sparsely populated. It is located toward the central-eastern edge of the state in the Columbia Basin. On the north end of the county is the Grand Coulee Dam, which is the largest electric power-producing facility in the United States and one of the largest concrete structures in the world.

Grant County is relatively flat, making it ideal for raising livestock on its dry grassland, which was the primary draw for white settlers in the mid-1880s. The coming of the railroad helped move more settlers into farming as it provided a means to get products to market. The semi-arid climate created a challenge for farming, with most farmers locating near water sources.

Local economy

Grant County industry has been heavily concentrated in ranching and agriculture. Many of the county’s early residents were sheep and cattle ranchers. The transition to fruit and crop farming as the dominant industries resulted from the development of adequate irrigation capacity starting in the 1930s.

Today agriculture still plays a large role for the area which is known for its tree fruit, irrigated farming of a variety of crops and the associated food processing industry, which makes up a large part of the nondurable-goods manufacturing sector. In 2016 for example, food processing (NAICS 311) provided 43.2 percent of the 4,866 manufacturing jobs in Grant County. Employers in this sector manufacture frozen fruits and vegetables, as well as frozen specialty foods and canned fruits. Some of the biggest food manufacturers found in Grant County are: Lamb Weston BSW, Washington Potato Co. and Pacific Coast Canola in Warden; Con Agra Foods, Inc. and Quincy Foods, LLC in Quincy; and J. R. Simplot Co. and National Frozen Foods in Moses Lake.

A testimony to the importance of agriculture to the Grant County economy was provided in the 2012 Agricultural Census produced by the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). According to the NASS, in calendar year 2012 Grant County registered the highest volume of agricultural sales ($1.7 billion) in all of Washington’s 39 counties. Crop and livestock sales in the County were $1.1 billion in 2007, the last year in which NASS released county-level sales data. A July 9, 2014 Columbia Basin Herald article entitled Grant County Leads Washington State in Agricultural Sales reported: “The increase between the 2007 and 2012 census was enough to bump Grant County up one spot on the state's list of top agricultural sellers. In 2007, Grant County had the No. 2 spot on the list, coming in after Yakima County which recorded $1.2 billion in agricultural sales that year.” Yakima County came in a close-second to Grant County during 2012, tallying $1.6 billion in sales.

Also, the area’s low-cost electricity, availability of rail transportation, abundance of reasonably priced land, easy access to Interstate 90 and a high-speed fiber optic network have made Grant County attractive to software and manufacturing firms. For example, the county is now home to seven data center companies such as Microsoft, Yahoo, Intuit, Dell, Sabey, Vantage and Server Farm Realty. With a combined total of over 1.5 million square feet in operating space, these data center firms and server farms have helped to add a new dimension to and diversify the local economy.

Manufacturing is prominent in Grant County’s economy. Examples of several durable goods manufacturers located in Moses Lake (and the products they make) are: Chemi-Con Materials (electrolytic aluminum foil), D&L Foundry and Supply (ironwork), Genie Industries Inc. (aerial work platforms), Inflation Systems - Takata Corporation (automotive air bag propellant and components), Moses Lake Industries (chemicals for semiconductor wafer fabrication), Moses Lake Steel (steel products), REC Silicon (polysilicon and silane gas manufacturing) and SGL Automotive Carbon Fiber (automotive parts). The later firm is newest addition to the list of local manufacturers and is a plant that makes carbon fiber components for BMW automobiles. In addition, Eldorado Stone (stone and brick processing) is located in Royal City and Celite Corporation (mineral processing) is based in Quincy.

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Geographic facts

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Grant County Washington  state
 Land area, 2010 (square miles) 2,679.51  66,455.52 
 Persons per square mile, 2010 33.3  101.2 

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The Grant County nonfarm economy has been on a recovery path since the depressed economic years of 2009 and 2010. During the past six years (from 2011 through 2016) average annual nonfarm job growth has ranged from a low of 0.7 percent in 2012 to a high of 3.9 percent in 2014. However, it is somewhat concerning that the pace of nonfarm job growth in Grant County has been sluggish during the past two completed calendar years (up 1.0 percent in 2015 and up 0.8 percent in 2016). Conversely, Washington's nonfarm employment growth rate averaged 2.9 percent in 2015 and 3.1 percent in 2016.

Long-term (i.e. ten-year) nonfarm employment projections produced by the Employment Security Department are for a 1.5 percent average annual growth rate from 2015-2025 for the five-county North Central WDA (i.e., Adams, Chelan, Douglas, Grant and Okanogan counties) and for a similar, 1.5 percent growth rate for Washington state.

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Labor force and unemployment

(Source: Employment Security Department)

Current labor force and unemployment statistics are available on the Labor area summaries page.

Unemployment rates in Grant County were fairly consistent in the four-year period from 2005 to 2008 (before the recession). Rates ranged from a low of 6.5 percent in 2007 to a high of 7.6 percent in 2005. During the recent recession, unemployment rates in Grant County rose to 9.9 percent in 2009 and 10.9 percent in 2010. The unemployment rate then fell to 10.0 percent in 2011, to 9.5 percent in 2012, to 8.7 percent in 2013, to 7.4 percent in 2014, to 7.3 percent in 2015, before edging upwards to 7.4 percent in 2016. It should be noted that average annual unemployment rates for the past three years (2014-2016, inclusive) have returned to levels experienced from 2005-2008 (pre-recession levels).   

Grant County’s CLF expanded by 126 residents (a 0.3 percent increase) from 2015 to 2016 and it rose by 1.8 percent between the Augusts of 2016 and 2017. However, local labor force growth rates have lagged statewide growth rates in 28 of the past 29 months (April 2015 through August 2017). Only between the Julys of 2016 and 2017 did the local CLF expand faster than the state's CLF. Nevertheless, the local unemployment rate has declined during each of the past eleven months (October 2016 through August 2016) primarily because the number of unemployed has contracted substantially. For example, the number of unemployed plummeted from 2,930 residents in August 2016 to 2,344 this August, meaning that 586 fewer Grant County residents were out of work during this timeframe. The August 2017 unemployment rate for Grant County (4.9 percent) is the lowest reading for the month of August since the 4.9 percent reading in August 2007 – ten years ago.

Washington's Civilian Labor Force (CLF) expanded by 98,209 residents (a 2.8 percent upturn) from 2015 to 2016. The state’s labor force has increased, year over year, for the past 43 months (February 2014 through August 2017). In August 2017, Washington’s CLF tallied 3,743,407 residents versus 3,658,770 in August 2016 equating to 84,637 more Washingtonians in the labor force (up 2.3 percent).

To summarize, both Grant County’s and Washington’s labor forces “parted ways” in terms of CLF growth rates, during 2016, with the lethargic 0.3 percent CLF growth pace in the County last year versus the more rapid, 2.8 percent increase in Washington. Also, the average annual unemployment rate edged upwards one-tenth percentage point in the County (from 7.3 to 7.4 percent) between 2015 and 2016 whereas Washington’s unemployment rate dipped two-tenths point (from 5.6 to 5.4 percent) during this timeframe. As mentioned above, these sluggish year over year monthly CLF growth rates in Grant County bear watching – despite the fact that local monthly unemployment rates have declined, year over year, during each of the past eleven months (October 2016 through August 2017).

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Industry employment

(Source: Employment Security Department)

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

The analysis in the first part of this “Industry employment” section is derived primarily from Quarterly Benchmarked (WA-QB) data. One advantage of these data is that the employment information is very current and data are updated monthly using WA_QB employment estimates. However, estimates are nonfarm related (i.e., they do not include agricultural employment figures).

The analysis in the second part of this “Industry employment” section is derived from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Quarterly Census of Employment and Wage (QCEW) program, conducted by the Washington State Employment Security Department. Although it takes a little longer to acquire QCEW data (than WA-QB data), the economic information provided is broader and more detailed than that provided by WA-QB.

First, QCEW includes employment, wage and size of firm figures for the agricultural sector, which WA-QB does not include. Second, QCEW data provides employment, wage and size of firm figures for businesses and government organizations in Grant County down to the 3-digit NAICS sub-sector level (i.e., more detail than WA-QB). QCEW data include agricultural and nonagricultural employment and wages for firms, organizations and individuals whose employees are covered by the Washington State Employment Security Act. Also included are data for Federal Government agencies covered by Title 5, U.S.C. 85. Covered employment generally exceeds 85 percent of total employment in the state of Washington.

Types of jobs not covered under the unemployment compensation system and hence not included in QCEW data include casual laborers not performing duties in the course of the employer’s trade or business; railroad personnel; newspaper delivery people; insurance or real estate agents paid on a commission basis only; non-covered employees working for parochial schools, religious, or non-profit organizations; employees of sheltered workshops; inmates working in penal institutions; non-covered corporate officers; etc.

Analysis using Quarterly Benchmarked data:

The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) announced that the national recession occurred from December 2007 through June 2009. The effects of this recession hit the Grant County economy lightly in 2008 (down 0.2 percent), hard in 2009 (down 3.7 percent) and then lightly in 2010 (down 0.3 percent), in terms of losses in total nonfarm employment. The number of nonfarm jobs across Grant County stood at a pre-recession peak of 27,610 jobs in 2007 and it took seven years (until 2014) for the local economy to regain and surpass this figure. In 2014 total nonfarm employment averaged 28,650 jobs. A brief synopsis of average annual local nonfarm employment trends from 2008 through 2016 follows:

  • In 2008 - Total nonfarm employment ebbed 0.2 percent in 2008 (down 60 jobs) to an average annual figure of 27,550. Nonfarm employment across Washington grew a modest 0.9 percent in 2008.
  • In 2009 - Both Grant County and Washington state faced the full brunt of the national economic recession. Grant County’s nonfarm employment lost 1,030 jobs, a 3.7-percent contraction, from 27,550 jobs in 2008 to 26,520 in 2009. Manufacturing employment lost 660 jobs (down 14.3 percent), construction netted 130 fewer jobs (down 8.0 percent) and professional and business services, which includes temporary agencies, provided 510 fewer jobs (down 31.5 percent). If there was any consolation to the dismal performance of the local economy in 2009, it was that the state’s nonfarm market fared even worse – falling by 4.4 percent between 2008 and 2009.
  • In 2010 - Total nonfarm employment dipped 0.3 percent (down 70 jobs) from 26,520 in 2009 to an average annual figure of 26,450. Although some industries fought back (i.e., nondurable goods manufacturing grew by 110 jobs and private education and health services averaged 180 more jobs), the local construction industry continued to tumble and job losses were severe. Construction plummeted from 1,490 to 1,200, an annual average loss of 290 jobs and a 19.5-percent retrenchment. The state’s nonfarm market contracted by 0.9 percent during 2010.
  • In 2011 – Grant County’s economy rebounded. The number of nonfarm jobs rose from 26,450 to 27,140 a 2.6-percent and 690-job increase. This recovery was led by a 420 job average annual increase in manufacturing, which grew from 4,000 jobs in 2010 to 4,420 in 2011. Washington’s recovery also got underway as total nonfarm employment expanded by 1.3 percent between 2010 and 2011.
  • In 2012 – The local nonfarm market expanded by 0.7 percent, to 27,340. This equated to a 200-job average annual upturn over 2011. Durable goods manufacturers in Grant County increased the number of workers from 1,780 to 1,920, accounting for 140 of this 200-job upturn. Washington’s nonfarm economy moved upwards by 1.6 percent between 2011 and 2012.
  • In 2013 – Grant County’s economy advanced by 0.8 percent (up 230 jobs) to 27,570. State and local government education tallied 220 more jobs countywide in 2013 (3,410 jobs) than in 2012 (3,190 jobs), a 6.9 percent upturn. The tempo of nonfarm job growth improved more rapidly across Washington, as the state’s economy averaged 2.2 percent more jobs in 2013 than in 2012.
  • In 2014 – This was a particularly good year for the local economy. Nonfarm employment averaged 28,650, a 1,080-job and 3.9-percent upturn over the 27,570 jobs tallied in 2013. Nonfarm growth was particularly strong in manufacturing (up 400) and in professional and business services (up 250). Statewide, the nonfarm labor market saw the number of jobs rise by 2.5 percent, the best growth rate in seven years (since the 2.6 percent expansion in 2007).
  • In 2015 - Grant County's economy provided 290 new nonfarm jobs, an average annual increase of 1.0 percent, less robust than the state’s 2.9 percent job growth rate. Although Grant County’s durable goods manufacturers (up 100 jobs), wholesale trade (up 80 jobs), retail trade (up 80 jobs) and professional and business services (up 180 jobs) fared well; construction (down 30 jobs), private education and health services (down 90 jobs) and state and local government education (down 80 jobs) all tightened their belts in 2015, accounting for the rather lackluster performance of the Grant County economy.
  • In 2016 - Grant County's economy provided 240 new nonfarm jobs, an average annual increase of 0.8 percent, less robust than the growth rate in 2015 and considerably less robust that the state’s 3.1 percent job growth rate. Although Grant County’s nondurable goods manufacturers (primarily food processors) grew by 110 jobs, retail trade stores netted 120 more jobs, and state and local education rebounded by adding 110 jobs in 2016; durable goods manufacturers had a dismal economic year. This industry dropped 320 jobs last year (down 13.7 percent), falling from an average of 2,340 jobs countywide in 2015 to 2,020 in 2016.

Referring to the most current monthly WA-QB data (as of August 2017), there is some cause for concern. Total nonfarm employment in Grant County posted a 1.8 percent growth pace between August 2016 (29,750 jobs) and August (30,300 jobs), slower than the 2.5 percent growth pace during this timeframe. More concerning however, it the fact that year over year job growth rates in Grant County have been slower that growth rates statewide for the past 29 consecutive months (April 2015 through August 2017).   

How does the state’s economy stack-up? Relatively, it’s looking better than the County. Between 2015 and 2016, Washington’s nonfarm labor market provided 96,600 new jobs, an average annual increase of 3.1 percent. This August, business and government organizations across Washington supplied 3,339,600 nonfarm jobs (not seasonally adjusted), compared to 3,256,600 in August 2016, a 2.5-percent over the year employment increase. The state’s economy has posted year over year employment increases for the past 83 months (October 2010 through August 2017).

Analysis using QCEW data:

The North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) is an industry classification system that groups businesses/organizations into categories or sectors based on the activities in which they are primarily engaged. There are 19 private sectors and three government sectors (for a total of 22 sectors) at the 2-digit NAICS code level, within each county-level economy. One can observe much about the structure of a county’s economy by quantifying and comparing the number of jobs and the percentage of jobs in these sectors by using annual average Quarterly Census of Employment and Wage (QCEW) data. The most recent average annual employment data available for Grant County are for 2016 and these data show:

The top five Grant County sectors in 2016 in terms of employment were:

 Sector Number of jobs Share of employment
 1. Agriculture, forestry and fishing 10,009  25.8% 
 2. Local government 6,591  17.0% 
 3. Manufacturing 4,866  12.5% 
 4. Retail trade 3,411  8.8% 
 5. Health Services 2,644  6.8% 
 All other industries 11,274  29.1% 
 Total covered payrolls 38,795  100% 

More  than seventy percent (70.9 percent, to be exact) of all jobs in Grant County were in five, two-digit NAICS industries or sectors (i.e., agriculture, local government, manufacturing, retail trade and health services). A comparison of the top five sectors that provided the most jobs in Grant County in 2016 with the sectors that produced the highest payrolls follows:

  • Agriculture provided 25.8 percent of all jobs countywide (10,009 jobs), yet tallied only 18.0 percent ($269.5 million) of total wage income ($1.496 billion). Why? Many agricultural jobs are seasonal.
  • Local government provided 17.0 percent (6,591 jobs) of total covered employment (38,795 jobs) in Grant County, yet accounted for 22.1 percent ($330.7 million) of total wage income – indicating that this is a relatively “good paying” industry. Jobs with local public school districts (primary and secondary schools), police and fire departments, ports, etc. are tallied under the local government category.
  • Manufacturing provided 12.5 percent of covered jobs in Grant County in 2016, but accounted for 16.9 percent of covered wages. In 2016, the average annual wage in manufacturing in Grant County was $52,026 which was 134.9-percent of the average covered wage of $38,573. Incidentally, within the local manufacturing sector in 2016, the food manufacturing subsector (NAICS 311) provided 43.2 percent of all manufacturing jobs – emphasizing the importance of agriculture on local manufacturing operations.
  • Retail trade stores provided 3,411 part- and full-time jobs in 2016, accounting for 8.8 percent of total covered employment in Grant County, but tallied only 6.3 percent of total covered wages/payroll.
  • Private health services tallied 6.8 percent of total covered employment and 6.4 percent of total wage income.

If one analyzes employment changes in Grant County from the past 13 years (2004-2016, inclusive) using Washington State Employment Security Department’s annual average Quarterly Census of Employment and Wage (QCEW) data it is noted that:

  • Total overed employment increased from 31,807 in 2004 to 38,795 in 2016, a 6,988-job and 22.0 percent upturn. The number of agricultural jobs (a subset of total covered employment) expanded from 7,459 in 2004 to 10,009 in 2016, a 2,550-job and 34.2 percent uptrend. In 2004 Grant County’s agricultural industry accounted for 23.5 percent of total covered employment while in 2016 it accounted for 25.8 percent of total covered employment. However, agricultural employment as a percentage of total covered employment has slipped a bit during the past four years from a “peak” of 27.7 percent in 2012 to 25.8 percent 2016. Nevertheless, during the past twelve years, the agricultural share of employment in Grant County rose by 2.3 percentage points, from 2004 (23.5 percent) to 2016 (25.8 percent).
  • Total covered wages rose from $821.0 million (in 2004) to $1.496 billion (in 2016) a $675.5 million and 82.3 percent upturn. The agricultural payroll (a subset of total covered wages) advanced from $134.6 million in 2004 to $269.5 million in 2015, a $134.9 million and 100.2 percent uptrend. In 2004 Grant County’s agricultural industry accounted for 16.4 percent of total covered wages and by 2016 agricultural wages accounted for 18.0 percent of total covered payroll. Hence, agricultural share of wages rose 1.6 percentage points (from 16.4 to 18.0 percent) in Grant County during this twelve-year period.

For historical industry employment data, contact an economist.

Industry employment by age and gender

(Source: The Local Employment Dynamics)

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. Some highlights:

In 2016, the largest jobholder age group was the 55+ year-olds. Tied for second-place were the 25-34 and the 35-44 year age groups, each with 20.9 percent of all job holders in Grant County.

Males held 54.2 percent of all jobs and females held 45.8 percent of all jobs countywide in 2016.

  • Male-dominated industries included mining (91.9 percent), construction (84.1 percent) and private utilities (76.2 percent).
  • Female-dominated industries included healthcare and social assistance (81.4 percent), educational services (71.4 percent) and finance and insurance (70.5 percent).

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Wages and income

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

The total covered payroll in 2016 in Grant County was approximately $1.496 billion. The average annual wage was $38,795 or 65.7 percent of the state average of $59,090.

The top five Grant County industries in 2016 in terms of payrolls were:

 Sector Payroll Share of payrolls
 1. Local government $330,724,053  22.1% 
 2. Agriculture, forestry and fishing $269,491,660  18.0% 
 3. Manufacturing $253,157,621  16.9% 
 4. Health services $96,265,247  6.4% 
 5. Retail trade $94,334,044  6.3% 
 All other industries $452,481,215  30.2% 
 Total covered payrolls $1,496,453,840  100% 

As shown in the table above, QCEW data showed that Grant County’s workers received $1.496 billion in wages in calendar year 2016. Nearly seventy percent of this wage income was earned in five, two-digit NAICS industries or sectors (i.e., local government, agriculture, manufacturing, private health services and retail trade). Local government was the largest provider of wage income/payroll in the county in 2016, supplying 22.1 percent of total earned wage income and accounting for 17.0 percent of all jobs (see “Industry employment” section). Agriculture, forestry and fishing ranked second in 2016 in terms of share of total covered payroll, providing 18.0 percent of all wages earned in Grant County - where the lion’s share of wages were earned in the agricultural industry (versus forestry and fishing). In fact, agriculture provided more jobs in 2016 than any other Grant County sector (i.e. 10,009 jobs or 25.8 percent of all covered employment). The disparity in percentages between wages and employment is because there is a relatively high proportion of seasonal jobs in the agricultural sector.

Average annual covered wages in Grant County during 2016 were highest in management of companies and enterprises ($82,275), wholesale trade ($53,790) and information ($53,751). Conversely, average annual wages were lowest in accommodation and food services ($15,805), private educational services ($20,129) and arts, entertainment and recreation ($21,050).

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 2015, Grant County inflation-adjusted per capita personal income was $38,081, less than the state ($51,898) and the nation ($48,112).

According to the U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts, the median household income was $48,714 in the period 2011 through 2015. The county’s median was less than the state ($61,062) and the nation ($53,889).

In the period 2011 through 2015, 16.1 percent of the county’s population was living below the poverty level, higher than the state at 11.3 percent and the nation at 12.7 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts. The state and national rates are not directly comparable to the county rate because they each use different data sources.

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(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Grant County’s population in 2016 was 93,546. The population grew 5.0 percent from April 1, 2010 through July 1, 2016, slower than the state’s 8.4 percent growth rate during this timeframe.

Moses Lake is the largest city in the county with an estimated population in 2016 of 22,641 residents. Ephrata is the next largest city with 8,032 residents.

Population facts

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Grant County Washington state
 Population 2015 93,546   7,288,000 
 Population 2010 89,120   6,724,540 
 Percent change, 2010 to 2015 5.0%  8.4% 

Age, gender and ethnicity

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Individuals under 18 years of age comprise 29.8 percent of Grant County’s population, which is greater than the 22.4 percent proportion across Washington state as of July 2016. Persons under 5 years of age comprised 8.1 percent of the county population compared to 6.2 percent for the state.

Females made up 49.0 percent of the population compared to 50.0 percent in the state.

Hispanics or Latinos made up 41.0 percent of the local population, considerably higher than the 12.4 percent statewide figure.


(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Grant County Washington state
 Population by age, 2016
Under 5 years old 8.1%  6.2% 
Under 18 years old 29.8%  22.4% 
65 years and older 13.3%  14.8% 
 Females, 2016 49.0%  50.0% 
 Race/ethnicity, 2016
White Alone 92.2%  80.0% 
Black Alone 1.9%  4.1% 
American Indian, Alaskan Native 2.3%  1.9% 
Asian 1.0%  8.6% 
Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander 0.2%  0.8% 
Two or more races 2.5%  4.6% 
Hispanic or Latino, any race 41.0%  12.4% 
White alone, not Hispanic or Latino 54.5%  69.5% 

Educational attainment

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

According to the American Community Survey (ACS), during the period 2011 through 2015, 75.5 percent of Grant County’s adults age 25 and older graduated from high school versus Washington’s 90.4 percent and 86.7 percent across the U.S.A.

Only 16.4 percent of county residents age 25 and older hold a bachelor’s degree or higher compared with 32.9 percent in Washington state and 29.8 percent nationwide.

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Useful links

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