Lewis County profile

Washington state map with Lewis 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

Lewis County, located in southwestern Washington, is the sixth largest county in the state. The Chehalis and Cowlitz rivers are the two major rivers in the county. Lewis, named for Meriwether Lewis, was created as a county in 1845. Its original borders encompassed half of Washington state and British Columbia. The Chehalis and Meshall tribal people inhabited this area prior to white explorers and settlers, but their numbers were decimated by disease. Many of these settlers worked in the trading posts as well as the Hudson Bay commercial farm that provided the trading posts.

Local economy

Once the railroad was established, logging and milling attracted immigrants and in-migrants. Labor organizers were outraged by the unsafe working conditions and low wages in this industry. In 1919, a gun battle erupted between members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and some World War I veterans and is known as the “Centralia Massacre”.

The 1920s brought hard times to Lewis before the Great Depression took hold. World War II increased the demand for wood and farm products, lifting the Lewis County economy again. Its economy has continued boom and bust cycles over its history.

Geographic facts

Lewis County Rank in state
 Land area, 2010 (square miles) 2,402.8 
 People per square mile, 2010 31.4  22 

U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

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The recession was difficult on the Lewis county economy, as nonfarm payrolls dropped and double digit unemployment rates were the rule rather than the exception. Now, nearly 10 years removed from the downturn, nonfarm payrolls are expanding and the unemployment rates in the county are at historic lows. Taxable sales for all industries are up over 31 percent since 2010. Newfound optimism has spurred development and job creation in construction, trade and leisure and hospitality.

Labor force and unemployment

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

Annual average unemployment in Lewis County has been declining since the 13.3 percent rate posted in 2009. The 2018 average rate was 6.3 percent. As we close out the winter months, the rates will typically fall, on a seasonal basis.

Since 2014, the labor force in the county has steadily grown, up 11.6 percent through March 2019. This gain in the labor force may indicate a renewed faith in the local economy as well as a more positive job market.

(Source: Employment Security Department)

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Industry employment

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

In Lewis County, nonfarm job numbers are improving. Specifically, there were on average 26,240 nonfarm jobs in the county in 2018, compared to 23,620 in 2010.

The goods-producing sector employed 5,230 in 2018, up 11.3 percent from 2017. Manufacturing was up 13.3 percent and construction was up 5.4 percent from their 2017 totals. The service-providing sector gained over 260 jobs from 2017 to 2018. Government employment was also up by 130 jobs.

  • Trade, transportation, and utilities combined lost 30 jobs over the year, or -0.5 percent with retail trade declining by 210 (-5.5 percent).

  • Private education and health services gained 150 jobs, or 3.8 percent.

  • The leisure and hospitality segment fell by 50 jobs (-1.8 percent).

  • Professional and business services added 40 new positions (2.9 percent).

The 2018 figures show the trade and government sectors as the two largest employers in the county, with education and health services a close third.

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. 

Lewis County highlights:

In 2017, the largest job holder age group in Lewis County was the 55 and older age category, making up 25.8 percent of employment across all industries. The next largest share was among people age 35 to 44 with 20.8 percent of employment.

  • In 2017, the county’s workers mirrored state patterns with workers age 14 to 24 dominating the accommodation and food services jobs in the county with over 33.2 percent of the positions. This age group was also well represented in arts, entertainment and recreation and retail trade.

  • Workers in the 55 year and older age category were prevalent in mining, educational services, transportation and warehousing, real estate and rental and leasing, public administration and utilities.

Females made up 49.1 percent of the labor force in Lewis County with males making up the difference at 50.9 percent in 2017. Men were more often represented in higher paying industries.

  • Male-dominated industries included mining (89.3 percent), construction (82.3 percent), manufacturing (81.8 percent) and utilities (83.8 percent).

  • Female-dominated industries included finance and insurance (76.7 percent), healthcare and social assistance (82.4 percent) and educational services (71.0 percent).

(Source: The Local Employment Dynamics)

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Wages and income

In 2017, there were 25,736 jobs covered by unemployment insurance in Lewis County, with a total payroll of $1,042,301,513.

Lewis County’s average annual wage in 2017 was $40,500, below the state’s average of $62,077.

The median hourly wage in 2017 was $20.15, below the state’s median hourly wage of $24.89 and the state excluding King County median hourly wage of $22.00.

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.

Personal income in 2017 lagged both the state and nation, as Lewis County’s per capita personal income was $40,041. The U.S. average was $51,640 and the state average was $57,896. Lewis County ranked 28th in the state in per capita personal income in 2017.

The median household income in Lewis County was $46,387 in 2017 dollars during 2013 to 2017, according to U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts. The county’s median was less than the state’s ($66,174) and the nation’s ($57,652).

Over the period of 2017, 15.0 percent of the Lewis County’s population was living below the poverty level, compared to 11.0 percent in the state and 12.3 percent in the nation. 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 Lewis County population has grown 5.5 percent since 2010. The largest city is Centralia, with a 2018 population of 17,060.

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau)

Population facts

Lewis County Washington state
 Population 2018 79,604  7,535,591 
 Population 2010 75,457  6,724,540 
 Percent change, 2010 to 2018 5.5%  12.1% 

Age, gender and ethnicity

When compared with the state, the Lewis County population is somewhat older, although it has a similar gender ratio. Far more residents identify themselves as white when compared to the state and most other groups represent a lower proportion of the county population compared to the state as well.


Lewis County Washington state
 Population by age, 2017
Under 5 years old 5.8%  6.2% 
Under 18 years old 21.6%  22.2% 
65 years and older 20.7%  15.1% 
 Females, 2017 50.0%  50.0% 
 Race/ethnicity, 2017
White 92.3%  79.5% 
Black 0.9%  4.2% 
American Indian, Alaskan Native 2.0%  1.9% 
Asian, Native Hawaiian, other Pacific Islander 1.4%  9.7% 
Hispanic or Latino, any race 10.1%  12.7% 

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Educational attainment

Most Lewis County residents age 25 and older (87.5 percent) were high school graduates, which compares with 90.8 percent of Washington state’s residents and 87.3 percent of U.S. residents in the period 2013 to 2017.

Those with a bachelor’s degree or higher made up 15.4 percent of Lewis County residents age 25 and older compared to 34.5 percent of state residents and 30.9 percent of U.S. residents during the same period.

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Useful links

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