Klickitat County profile

Washington state map with Klickitat county highlightedby Scott Bailey, regional labor economist - updated November, 2017

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


Regional context

Klickitat County is located in south central Washington. It was once home to the Klickitat and Wishram tribes. Non-Indian settlers began arriving in the 1850s. The economic history of the county includes sheep and cattle raising, wheat, orchards, timber, and aluminum. Klickitat County has three distinct economic regions. The western third of the county relies on advanced manufacturing, orchards and fruit packing, and wood products. The eastern third is dominated by vegetable farming and increasing numbers of wineries, as well as the Roosevelt regional landfill. The central third boasts the county seat, Goldendale, the Maryhill Museum, windsurfing and kite boarding beaches, as well as the now-shuttered aluminum smelter.

Local economy

Nonfarm employment in Klickitat County grew rapidly in the mid 1990s, peaked in 2000, and dropped sharply over the next four years before starting a recovery in 2005 that continued into mid-2009. The great recession was short and sharp in Klickitat: employment declined for twelve months (August 2009 to August 2010), falling by 450 jobs (8 percent). A sharp recovery finally began in mid-2015, and job growth has been strong since then, reaching 4.8 percent in 2016. Preliminary October 2017 data put year-over-year growth at 3.5 percent.

In 2016 the county averaged 5,840 nonfarm jobs, 270 more (4.8 percent) than in 2015. When comparing 2015 with 2009 employment, there have been four major changes:

  • Construction was lower by 110 jobs.
  • Manufacturing was up 810 jobs, primarily due to the industry reclassification, but at least 200 due to growth.
  • Transportation services was up 100 jobs.
  • Professional and business services was lower by 550 jobs, primarily due to the industry reclassification, but at least 100 due to growth.

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Geographic facts

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Klickitat County Rank in state
 Land area, 2010 (square miles) 1,871.73  24 
 Persons per square mile, 2010 11.2  35 

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Preliminary data for 2017 show that Klickitat County employment is growing at a rapid pace this year. That will likely moderate at some point, to a slower but more sustainable growth rate in employment and population over the near term.

Labor force and unemployment

(Source: Employment Security Department)

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

Over the past 25 years, unemployment in Klickitat County has slowly trended lower, as the county economy has become less dependent on resource-based jobs that tend to have large seasonal and cyclical patterns. The gap between the county and the state unemployment rate, which was typically 4 to 6 percentage points in the 1990s, has also closed, and was less than a point and a half in 2015. The revised rate for 2016 was 7.1 percent, the lowest rate since 1990. Preliminary data suggested that the rate will be about a point lower in 2017.

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Industry employment

(Source: Employment Security Department)

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

Major trends and events over the last 20 years include:

  • The expansion of agriculture throughout the county, but especially in vegetable farming and vineyards in east Klickitat and fruit orchards in the western portion.
  • The closure of the aluminum smelter in Goldendale in 2001.
  • The development of the regional landfill at Roosevelt in 1992 and its subsequent expansion.
  • The establishment of Insitu, a designer and fabricator of unmanned drones, in Bingen, along with a number of its suppliers.

As 2017 came to a close, preliminary estimates showed that:

  • The county averaged about 6,100 nonfarm jobs, up 260 jobs/4.5 percent over the year.
  • Private sector employment had grown by 250 jobs/6.1 percent.
  • Construction and mining employment increased by 30 jobs over the year, while logging lost the same number.
  • Manufacturing added 280 jobs.
  • Trade, transportation and utilities declined by 50 jobs, all in transportation services.
  • Professional and business services expanded by 30 jobs.
  • Education & health services fell by 30 jobs.
  • Leisure & hospitality was unchanged.
  • Government payrolls rose by 20 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 is a joint project of state employment departments and the Census Bureau. It matches state employment data with federal administrative data. Among the products is industry employment by age and sex. All workers covered by state unemployment insurance data are included. Federal workers and non-covered workers like the self-employed are not. Data is presented by place of work, not place of residence. Some highlights:

  • Males held a majority (57 percent) of the jobs in Klickitat County in 2016. The state was much closer to a 51/49 split.
  • Female-dominated industries included health care (77 percent), education (69 percent), accommodation & food services (60 percent), and retail trade (59 percent).
  • Male-dominated industries include construction (81 percent), administration & waste services (78 percent), manufacturing (74 percent) and agriculture (60 percent).

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 charts below contrast industry shares of employment and wages covered by unemployment insurance in the county. The biggest difference: manufacturing supplies 18 percent of the jobs in the county, and 32 percent of total wages. The average wage for all jobs in the county was $46,338, for manufacturing: $80,243. The average wage has been trending up over time, in line with the average for the rest of the state if King County is excluded.

Pie charts of covered employment in 2016

Pie chart of covered wages in 2016

The median hourly wage for non-federal jobs in Klickitat County was $19.87 in 2016. In comparison, the state median was $23.91 ($20.68 if King County was excluded). The 2016 median was 4.9 percent above the 2015 figure, a big jump.

In 2016, 19 percent of the jobs in Klickitat paid below $12 per hour—vs. 14 percent statewide and 18 percent for the state when King County is excluded. On the upper end, 25 percent of the jobs in the county paid $30.00 per hour or more, slightly less than the 28 percent for non-King counties, and further below the 36 percent at the state level.

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 increased to $45,595 in 2016, the highest on record. Over the past ten years, Klickitat has moved from 74 percent of the national average to 93 percent, and from 70 percent of the state average to 84 percent. Earned income, investment income, and transfer payments have all grown faster at the county level than for the state and nation. County earned income was still lagging at 75 percent of the national average but has caught up considerably from 58 percent back in 2006.

Beginning in 1990, an increasing share of income earned by Klickitat residents came from jobs held outside the county. The percent of earned income coming from cross-county commuters increased from 15 percent in 1990 to 27 percent in 2009 before declining and stabilizing at 25 percent over the past six years. Meanwhile the percent of earnings from jobs within the county that was earned by non-county residents has risen sharply in the past three years from 15 percent to 18 percent.

Transfer payments are an important source of income for county residents. On a per capita basis, payments are 40 percent higher in Klickitat than nationally, due to factors like a more elderly population, poverty, and a higher proportion of veterans.

Per Capita Transfer Payments, 2016

Type  Klickitat  U.S.  Difference 
Total benefits  $12,036  $8,567  40.5% 
Social Security benefits  $4,225  $2,774  52.3% 
Medicare benefits  $2,678  $2,030  31.9% 
Medicaid  $2,380  $1,778  33.9% 
Supplemental security income (SSI) benefits  $191  $175  9.1% 
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)  $294  $202  45.5% 
Other income maintenance benefits  $370  $234  58.1% 
Unemployment insurance compensation  $111  $98  13.3% 
Veterans' benefits  $407  $287  41.8% 

Household income

Recent estimates of household income from the Census Bureau showed that median household income in Klickitat County has improved considerably of late. The median for the five years spanning 2010 to 2014 was $46,368, an increase of 13 percent from the 2005-09 period. Income at the state and national levels both declined over that same time period. For the 2010-14 period Klickitat was 21 percent below the nation. The gap between the county and the state was larger. This indicates that the increase in income indicated by a rising per capita income was concentrated in households above the median.

Poverty in Klickitat County dropped more than four percentage points, from 19.8 percent for the 2005-09 period to 15.6 percent in 2010-14, which matched the U.S. rate. The poverty rate for children remained at 28.2 percent, well above the state and nation.

It seems reasonable to conclude that the lower median income in the county is connected with the higher level of lower-wage jobs. A challenge for the county is to facilitate the development of more middle income jobs to help lower poverty—no easy task these days.

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(Source: U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis; Washington of Financial Management)

Klickitat County’s population was 21,660 in 2017. Some recent trends:

  • Over  the past decade, the county has grown at an average of 0.6 percent per year, matching the average for rural counties in the state but below the state (1.1 percent) and nation (0.8 percent).
  • Growth is projected to be half as much in the coming decades.

Population facts

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Klickitat County Washington state
 Population 2017 21,660  7,218,759 
 Population 2000 19,161  5,894,121 
 Percent change, 2000 to 2017 13.0%  22.5% 

Age, gender and ethnicity

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Klickitat’s population is somewhat older than the state and nation. In 2016:

  • 22 percent of the county was below the age of 20, versus 25 percent statewide.
  • 18 percent was aged 20 to 39, versus 27 percent statewide.
  • 27 percent was aged 40 to 59, slightly above the state figure of 26 percent.
  • 33 percent was aged 60 or older, far more than the state average of 21 percent.

The county is also less diverse: in 2016, 82 percent of the population was white and non-Hispanic.


(Source: Office of Financial Management)

Klickitat County Washington state
 Population by age, 2016
Under 5 years old 5.1%  6.2% 
Under 18 years old 19.8%  22.6% 
65 years and older 23.9%  14.9% 
 Females, 2016 49.7%  50.0% 
 Race/ethnicity, 2016
White alone, not Hispanic or Latino 82.3%  69.7% 
Black 0.3%  3.6% 
American Indian, Alaskan Native 1.6%  1.3% 
Asian, Native Hawaiian, other Pacific Islander 0.7%  8.7% 
Hispanic or Latino, any race 12.4%  12.6% 

Educational attainment

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

In 2011-15, an average of 23.5 percent of the Klickitat population aged 25 and older had a bachelor’s degree or higher education, up from 18.0 percent in 2006-10. The increase was much greater than the state or nation, though the level still lagged the 33.1 percent statewide and 29.7 percent nationally.


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Useful links

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