Kitsap County profile

by Jim Vleming, regional labor economist - updated November 2016

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


Regional context

Kitsap County, originally part of King and Jefferson counties, is the northern end of the Kitsap peninsula, jutting into the Puget Sound positioned between the Olympic Peninsula to the west and King County to the east. It is located between Hood Canal and Admiralty Strait. Water transportation is dominant in the culture and economy of the county. The county, initially named Slaughter County for a U.S. Army officer, was formed in 1857. Voters later changed the name to honor Kitsap, the Suquamish war chief. The county seat is at Port Orchard.

Kitsap County is one of the smallest counties in the state in terms of land area at about 395 square miles. It ranks third, however, in the state in terms of its population density, i.e. persons per square mile.

Local economy

Native Americans were the first residents in the area. They lived in permanent settlements, fishing, hunting and gathering. Contact with Europeans and the introduction of diseases such as smallpox in the 1780s decimated their numbers.

The 1850 gold rush in California triggered non-native settlement in the area as the demand for lumber spurred migration to the region’s great stands of timber. Shipyards sprang up near the mill towns, where lumber was shipped mainly to California but also across the Pacific to Asia. In the mid- to late 19th century, the Kitsap Peninsula had the distinction of having the greatest per capita income on Puget Sound.

Port Orchard was selected in the 1880s as a ship repair facility nearer to the open Pacific Ocean. The U.S. Navy established the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in 1891, which soon became a magnet for other businesses and workers. During other periods of conflict, military installations dotted the coastline of the county, including Fort Ward on Bainbridge Island. Today spending by the Department of Defense, including U.S. Navy centers at Bremerton, Keyport and Bangor, continues to dominate the economy of the county as demonstrated by an annual military and defense payroll in excess of $1.5 billion.

Because of Kitsap County’s geographic configuration, the Washington State Ferry System is an important infrastructure link for Kitsap residents. In fiscal year 2015, more than 6.3 million passenger trips were taken on the Seattle-Bainbridge ferry run and more than 2.6 million trips were taken on the Seattle-Bremerton route. In the north part of the county, the boats serving the Edmonds and Kingston run hosted over 4.0 million passenger trips during the year. More than half of all ridership on the Washington State Ferries originates or ends in Kitsap County.

The Hood Canal, bordering the west side of the Kitsap Peninsula is traversed by the Hood Canal floating bridge linking Kitsap and Jefferson counties. The bridge is the third-longest floating bridge in the world and the longest crossing salt water. (Washington state’s 520 and I-90 bridges across Lake Washington are the first and second longest floating bridges in the world, respectively.)

This infrastructure supports the economy based on public sector Department of Defense jobs, as well as over 15,000 uniform service personnel based there. The balance of economic activity in the county includes a thriving gaming industry with large casinos located on tribal properties, a major medical center and a regional retail hub attracting shoppers from Kitsap County as well as the surrounding rural counties: Clallam, Jefferson and Mason.

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Geographic facts

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Kitsap County Rank in state
 Land area, 2010 (square miles) 394.94  36 
 Persons per square mile, 2010 635.9 

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The economic outlook for Kitsap County appears to be steadily improving. The county has registered an unemployment rate close to the state and national averages over the past two years, with the August 2016 rate for not seasonally adjusted unemployment at 5.9 percent.

Kitsap County, while facing economic hardships during the slow growth post-recession period, is located well geographically to take advantage of the thriving I-5 corridor. With affordable real estate and an expanding options for commuting, the area is poised to benefit in economic growth.

Comparing 2015 to 2014, we see a 2.3 percent increase in total nonfarm employment, which compares favorably to the nonfarm rate of growth at the state (2.8 percent) and the national level (2.1 percent).

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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.

As of September 2016, the civilian labor force stood at 116,326, higher than the September 2015 level of 113,828. On an annual average basis, there has been an increase in the labor force since 2013, another indicator of a healthy and lively job market.

In September 2016 the county unemployment rate was 5.7 percent, compared to 5.0 percent in September 2015. The over the year increase in rate can be attributed to the expanding labor force.  The unemployment rate will continue to remain low as confidence in the labor market conditions grow and new opportunities begin to appear.

From 2004 through 2008, Kitsap County experienced average annual unemployment rates under 5.9 percent, with lower rates during periods of stronger growth. This contrasts with the much higher rates beginning in 2009 (7.7 percent) and continuing through 2013 (7.2 percent). In the first nine months of 2016 the unemployment rate averaged 5.9 percent.

The military and its federal employees continue to be a steady source of economic fuel for the economy with over 15,000 active military and nearly 18,000 civilians based in Kitsap; it is a city on to itself. In addition, over 500 prime and sub-contractors add to the benefits seen by this federal presence.

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Industry employment

(Source: Employment Security Department)

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

In Kitsap County, job numbers are continuing to rebound and have surpassed the losses which occurred from 2006 to 2012. Specifically, there were on average 89,200 nonfarm jobs in the county in the first nine months of 2016 compared to 87,400 in 2006.

The goods-producing sector employed 7,200 in September 2016, a gain of 400 jobs since September 2015.

The service-providing sector gained 700 jobs since September 2015.

  • Trade, transportation, warehousing and utilities gained 400 jobs.
  • The leisure and hospitality segment was unchanged over the year.
  • Professional and business services added 400 new positions over the past year.

The largest component of Kitsap County nonfarm employment is government. This sector typically accounts for a third of the nonfarm total with a September 2016 total of 31,600 jobs. Of that total, 19,400 was federal government employment. The second largest group was local government, with 10,200 jobs.

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:

Industry employment by age in 2015 shows younger workers ages 14 to 24 dominating employment in the accommodation and food services industry (35.8 percent) and also having strong participation in retail trade (20.1 percent). They are minimally represented in public sector jobs, mining, utilities or private sector educational services jobs. Workers age 55 and over are fairly evenly represented in all sectors with the exception of accommodation and food services and construction. Their numbers are most concentrated in educational services, healthcare and social assistance and management.

Gender divisions in the labor force also follow typical patterns with males dominating construction, transportation and warehousing and manufacturing while females make up the majority of the labor force in health care and social assistance, finance and insurance and educational services.

In 2015, females held 54.9 percent and men held 45.1 percent of the jobs in Kitsap County. There were substantial differences in gender dominance by industry.

  • Male-dominated industries industries included construction (84.3 percent), mining (75.9 percent), manufacturing (73.1 percent) and transportation and warehousing (74.8 percent).
  • Female-dominated industries included healthcare and social assistance (78.1 percent), finance and insurance (73.4 percent) and educational services (72.5 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)

In 2015, Kitsap County recorded 84,858 jobs covered by unemployment insurance, with a total payroll of over $3.9 billion.

The 2015 average annual wage for Kitsap County was $47,162, below the state’s average annual wage of approximately $56,650.

The median hourly wage in 2015 was $19.58, less than the state’s median at $23.15 and the state less King County at $20.24 (unadjusted for inflation).

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 income in the county was $46,573 for 2014, below that of Washington State at $49,610 and above the nation at $46,049. Kitsap County ranks fourth in per capita income in the state.

Kitsap County’s poverty rate was 11.2 percent in 2014. The state rate was 12.2 percent, while the nation posted a rate of 13.5 percent. 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)

Kitsap County’s population in 2015 was 260,131. It grew from 251,133 in 2010.

Kitsap County’s largest city, Bremerton, recorded a population of 39,520 in 2015. The city had a population of 37,830 in 2010.

Population facts

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Kitsap County Washington state
 Population 2015 260,131  7,170,351 
 Population 2010 251,333  6,724,543 
 Percent change, 2010 to 2015 3.6%  6.6% 

Age, gender and ethnicity

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Kitsap County’s population is somewhat older than that of the state.

  • Those residents 65 years and older made up 16.5 percent of the county’s population in 2015 compared to 14.4 percent of the state’s population.
  • There were also proportionately fewer residents under 18 years of age and less than five years of age in Kitsap County compared to the state.

In 2014 females made up 49.1 percent of the population compared to 50.0 percent for the state.

Kitsap County showed less diversity in 2015 than did the state in all racial/ethnic categories including American Indians and Alaskan Natives, who accounted for 1.8 percent of the population in the county.


(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Kitsap County Washington state
 Population by age, 2015
Under 5 years old 5.7%  6.2% 
Under 18 years old 20.7%  22.5% 
65 years and older 16.5%  14.4% 
 Females, 2015 49.0%  50.0% 
 Race/ethnicity, 2015
White 83.0%  80.3% 
Black 3.0%  4.1% 
American Indian, Alaskan Native 1.8%  1.9% 
Asian, Native Hawaiian, other Pacific Islander 6.4%  9.1% 
Hispanic or Latino, any race 7.5%  12.4% 

Educational attainment

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Most Kitsap County residents age 25 and older (94.1 percent) were high school graduates, which compares favorably with 90.2 percent of Washington state’s residents and 86.3 percent of U.S. residents in the period 2010-2014.

Those with a bachelor’s degree or higher made up 30.0 percent of Kitsap County residents age 25 and older compared to 32.3 percent of state residents and 29.3 percent of U.S. residents during the same period.

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Useful links

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