Jefferson County profile

Washington state map with Jefferson county highlightedby Jim Vleming, regional labor economist - updated April 2019

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


Regional context

Jefferson County is located on the Olympic Peninsula in northwestern Washington state. Jefferson County is nestled between the Admiralty Inlet and Clallam, Mason, Grays Harbor and Kitsap counties. It faces the Pacific Ocean to the west and Hood Canal to the east. Named for President Thomas Jefferson, it was created in 1852 from a portion of Lewis County. The county seat is Port Townsend.

Much of the county is publicly owned land. About 60 percent of the county comprises the Olympic National Park and Olympic National Forest and roughly 20 percent is under the jurisdiction of federal and state agencies. The Hoh Reservation and a small corner of the Quinault Reservation are also located in Jefferson County.

Jefferson County is a mid-sized county, ranking 18th in the state in land area. Its population density, as measured by people per square mile, ranks 29th among the other counties.

Local economy

Jefferson County’s current economic base grew from a rich history of natural resources extraction including logging and fishing in the late 1880s. By the turn of the 20th century, sawmills, fish processing and shipbuilding were firmly established in the coastal areas of the county. The county also was known for smuggling spirits from Canada in and out of the county’s many hidden coves and forests during prohibition.

Port Townsend, the economic center of the county, has experienced periods of boom and bust over the century due to its dependency on these volatile industries. During 2011, Port Townsend finally started to recover from the Great Recession with visible signs of economic growth including new shops, new investments and rebounds in tourism. Annual taxable sales in the county have grown strongly since 2013. In 2018, the Port of Port Townsend had the highest revenue in five years for its major operating units.

The economy of Jefferson County is comprised of both an industrial and an agricultural base. Industrially, the county’s history, climate and terrain supports healthy forest products and maritime sectors, including lumber, fish processing, ship repair and maintenance as well as ship and boatbuilding. The agricultural base encompasses tree farms for logging, aquaculture and a flourishing organic farming sector. Food production, stemming from this growing agricultural segment, includes artisan cheeses and breads. Tourism also provides revenue streams to the county. Economic activity is supported by a vibrant port and airport, ferry terminal and state highways.

A recent development is the Emerald Coast Opportunity Zone (ECOZ), which consists of a diverse group of geographical census tracts intended to make the Olympic Coast more attractive to investors. Working together, ECOZ is catalyzing economic development in rural areas by engaging with communities and connecting the best opportunities with private capital.

This Opportunity Zone is a unique collaboration of five Tribal Nations, four cities, two counties (Clallam and Jefferson) and two port authorities that spans 14 federally designated Opportunity Zone census tracts. Together, the partners of the Emerald Coast Opportunity Zone are building a deal “engine” of community driven projects that both present good investments but also create good jobs, construct affordable and high-end housing, and support innovative entrepreneurs.

The 14 Opportunity Zone census tracts were designated under the federal 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. This federal law gives tax incentives to investors who invest their unrealized capital gains in qualified businesses and real estate located in Opportunity Zones through:

  • Temporary deferral of capital gains taxes until 2026.

  • Tax reduction on capital gains (at 5 and 7 years).

  • Elimination of taxes on gains from OZ investments (if held for 10 years).

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Geographic facts

Jefferson County Rank in state
 Land area, 2010 (square miles) 1,803.7  18 
 People per square mile, 2010 16.6  29 

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)


The outlook for Jefferson County for 2019 is one of growth, as data show nonfarm employment up 260 jobs in 2018 from 2017, or 3 percent, higher than the state average of 2.6 percent. While the number of jobs is up and unemployment rates are down, growth in nonfarm jobs has been uneven, but is showing strength entering 2019.

Labor force and unemployment

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

The 2018 civilian labor force was 12,156, up 2.2 percent from the 2017 level of 11,895.

This increase follows a reversal of years past where the labor force was shrinking. The labor force, has been expanding since 2014. More confidence in the local economy has supported increased labor force numbers.

The 2018 figures show an unemployment rate of 5.8 percent compared to 6.1 percent in 2017. The unemployment rate has been declining steadily since 2011. The first two months of 2019 are also showing a decline over those of 2018.

(Source: Employment Security Department)

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Industry employment

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

In Jefferson County, the nonfarm sector averaged 8,910 jobs in 2018. That is 260 jobs ahead of the pace set in 2017, and 540 paychecks above the 2016 county total.

  • The goods-producing sector was up 20 jobs year-over-year with construction adding 10 jobs over the year. Manufacturing also showed an increase of 10 jobs.

  • The service-providing sector gained 240 jobs in 2018. Professional services, leisure and hospitality and government all showed gains over this time period.

 For historical industry employment data, contact an economist.

(Source: Employment Security Department)

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. Some highlights:

The population of Jefferson County is older than that of the state, which is also reflected in the labor force figures. Over 30.5 percent of the workforce was age 55 or older in 2017.

  • Those aged 55 and older dominated the utilities, educational services and transportation services jobs, while younger workers (14 to 24) made up the bulk of accommodation and food services positions.

When looking at all industries, men held 48.2 percent of the jobs while women made up 51.8 of all workers in 2017. In spite of this imbalance, males in the county tended to be employed in higher wage jobs in what are generally considered traditionally male fields such as manufacturing and construction. There are wide differences in the composition of industry sector by gender in Jefferson County.

  • Male-dominated industries included construction (78.9 percent), manufacturing (71.2 percent), agriculture, and forestry and fishing and hunting (73.2 percent).

  • Female-dominated industries included finance and insurance (77.2 percent), healthcare and social assistance (80.5 percent) and educational services (70.2 percent).

(Source: The Local Employment Dynamics)

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Wages and income

In 2017, Jefferson County had 8,633 jobs covered by the unemployment insurance system, with a payroll of $335.2 million.

The 2017 average annual wage for Jefferson County was $38,830 well below the state’s average annual wage of $62,077.

The median hourly wage in 2017 was $21.27, less than that of the state’s median hourly wage at $24.89 and for the state less King County at $22.00.

Median household income, according to the 2013 to 2017 U.S. Census, was $51,842, well below that of the state’s $66,174. The U.S. figure was $56,267.

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.

Per capita personal income in Jefferson County in 2017 was $48,975 compared to $57,896 for the state and $51,640 for the nation. Jefferson County ranked 10th in the state in 2017 in per capita income. It ranked sixth in 2014.

According to the U.S. Census, 12.8 percent of those in the county were living below the poverty level compared to 12.2 percent of the state population and 14.6 percent of the U.S. population in the period 2013 through 2017. The state and national rates are not directly comparable to the county rate because they each use different data sources.

(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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The population of Jefferson County was 31,729 in 2018. It grew from 29,872 in 2010.

Jefferson County’s largest city, Port Townsend, had a population of 9,545 in 2018, up from 9,113 in 2010, an increase of 432 people.

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau)

Population facts

Jefferson County Washington state
 Population 2018 31,729  7,535,591 
 Population 2010 29,872  6,724,540 
 Percent change, 2010 to 2018 6.2%  12.1% 

Age, gender and ethnicity

Jefferson County’s population was older than the population of the state in 2017.

  • The county’s residents in the 65 and older category made up 35.6 percent of its population compared to 15.1 percent of the state’s population.

  • There were proportionately fewer young residents in Jefferson County compared to the state.

Females made up 50.8 percent of the county’s population compared to 50.0 percent in the state in 2018.

The population is less diverse than the state’s, with the exception of American Indians and Alaskan Natives.

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Jefferson County Washington state
 Population by age, 2017
Under 5 years old 3.0%  6.2% 
Under 18 years old 12.3%  22.2% 
65 years and older 35.6%  15.1% 
 Females, 2017 50.8%  50.0% 
 Race/ethnicity, 2017
White 91.5%  79.5% 
Black 1.1%  4.2% 
American Indian, Alaskan Native 2.3%  1.9% 
Asian, Native Hawaiian, other Pacific  Islander 2.1%  9.6% 
Hispanic or Latino, any race 3.6%  12.7% 

Educational attainment

Most of Jefferson County residents age 25 and older (94.5 percent) were high school graduates, which compares favorably with 90.8 percent of Washington state’s residents and 87.3 percent of U.S. residents in the period 2013-2017.

Those with a bachelor’s degree or higher made up 39.9 percent of Jefferson County residents age 25 and older compared to 34.5 percent of state residents and 30.9 percent of U.S. residents over the same period.

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)


Useful links

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