Mason County profile

Washington state map with Mason county highlightedby Jim Vleming, regional labor economist - updated September 2017

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


Regional context

The county now known as Mason was first established as Sawamish County in 1854. Carved out of Thurston County, it extended to the Pacific Ocean. In 1864, it was renamed Mason County. It encompasses the southern part of Hood Canal and many bays and inlets of south Puget Sound. The indigenous peoples include the Coast Salish. European contact in the 1700s brought disease that decimated the native populations. In the 1840s, American settlers arrived and began farming.

Local economy

Forest products became the largest industry in the county, and expanded greatly when the railroads made it possible to feed the various mills in the area. Work on creating a terminus for the transcontinental railroad in Union came to an abrupt halt with the Panic of 1893, the most serious economic crisis in the nation’s history. Mason County was fortunate, however, in that banker Alfred Anderson partnered with loggers to get them back to work and then with Sol Simpson to create the Simpson Logging Company, which became the largest employer in the state. In the 1980s, the Forest Service eliminated most timber sales to protect the spotted owl.

The prison in Shelton added hundreds of beds during this period, helping to offset job losses in the forest industry. Recreation as well as oyster and seafood production and processing also have increased in importance. Mason County also has become an important bedroom community for commuters to Thurston and Pierce counties. In 2015, 53.8 percent of earned income came from residents working outside the county.

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Geographic facts

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Mason County Rank in state
 Land area, 2010 (square miles) 959.42  29 
 Persons per square mile, 2010 63.3  15 

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Mason County has reduced its unemployment rate levels to those last seen in 2008. However, the return to pre-recession employment totals in some industries continues to be slow. Manufacturing had over 1,900 jobs as recently as 2006 compared to an average of 960 so far in 2017. Construction, which employed 1,140 in 2006, is averaging 780 so far in 2017. In fact, total nonfarm employment through August 2017 continues to lag the annual average figure of 13,810 posted in 2014.

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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.

Compared to the January 2010 high of 13.9 percent the county has had declining unemployment rates. The August 2017 preliminary rate was 5.7 percent. The August rate in 2016 rate was 8.0 percent.

The labor force has been over 23,000 since 2011 on an annual average basis, but remains below the 25,549 total of 2009.  The 2017 data showed a slight increase in this metric. In the first eight months of 2017 it has averaged 23,600. The seasonal influence will show increases in unemployment as we end 2017 and start into 2018.

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Industry employment

(Source: Employment Security Department)

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

Nonfarm industry employment in Mason County has been treading water over the last several years, with most industries remaining fairly steady. In fact, nonfarm employment totals continue to trail the pre-recession figure of 14,520 in 2008.

The August preliminary 2017 total of 13,920 jobs is 80 fewer jobs than in August 2016. The largest industries in the Mason County economy during the first 8 months of 2017 are government (5,700) and trade, transportation and utilities (2,340). The manufacturing industry in August accounted for 980 jobs, and saw a loss of 90 jobs over the year. The 2017 industry employment level represents a small loss in total nonfarm employment compared to the 2016 totals. This trend will likely be the norm heading into 2018, although manufacturing will continue to face significant headwinds.

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 in Mason County was the 55 and older age category, making up 25.6 percent of employment across all industries. The next largest share was among persons aged 25 to 34 with 21.3 percent of employment. 

In 2016, the county’s workers mirrored state patterns with workers ages 14 to 24 dominating the accommodation and food services jobs in the county with over 30.3 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 educational services (38.7 percent), transportation and warehousing (30.4 percent), real estate and rental and leasing (39.4 percent), and other services (33.5 percent).

Females made up 51.0 percent of the labor force in Mason County with males making up the difference at 49.0 percent in 2016. Men were more often represented in higher paying industries.

  • Male-dominated industries included agriculture (70.1 percent), construction (79.9 percent), manufacturing (77.2 percent) and transportation and warehousing (73.0 percent).
  • Female-dominated industries included finance and insurance (70.9 percent), healthcare and social assistance (80.9 percent) and educational services (73.0 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 2016, there were 14,032 jobs covered by unemployment insurance in Mason County, with a total payroll of over $537.2 million.

Mason County’s average annual wage in 2016 was $38,272, below the state’s average of $59,073.

The median hourly wage in 2016 was $19.28, below the state’s median hourly wage of $23.91 and the state excluding King County median hourly wage of $20.68.

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 2015 lagged both the state and nation as Mason County’s per capita personal income was $36,623. The U.S. average was $48,112 and the state rate was $51,898. Mason County ranked 31st in the state in per capita personal income in 2015.

The median household income in Mason County was $50,406 in 2011-2015 according to U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts. The county’s median was less than the state’s ($61,062) and the nation’s ($53,889).

Over the period 2011-2015, 16.9 percent of the Mason County’s population was living below the poverty level, compared with 11.3 percent for the state and the nation at 12.7 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)

The population of Mason County has slightly increased since 2010. The largest city is Shelton, with a 2016 population of 9,980; the balance of residents are living in unincorporated areas.

Population facts

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Mason County Washington state
 Population 2016  62,198  7,288,000 
 Population 2010 60,699  6,724,540
 Percent change, 2010 to 2016 2.5%  8.4% 

Age, gender and ethnicity

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Mason County is somewhat older than the statewide average, with fewer individuals under the age of 18 and more 65 and older. The county is less diverse than the state in terms of race and ethnicity, with 88.2 percent white and 1.3 percent black. The American Indian and Alaska Natives make up 4.5 percent of the population.


(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Mason County Washington state
 Population by age, 2016
Under 5 years old 5.1%  6.2% 
Under 18 years old 19.1%  22.4% 
65 years and older 22.4%  14.8% 
 Females, 2016 48.4%  50.0% 
 Race/ethnicity, 2016
White 88.2%  80.0% 
Black 1.3%  4.1% 
American Indian, Alaskan Native 4.5%  1.9% 
Asian, Native Hawaiian, other Pacific Islander 1.7%  9.4% 
Hispanic or Latino, any race 9.4%  12.4% 

Educational attainment

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Most Mason County residents age 25 and older (87.6 percent) were high school graduates, which compares with 90.4 percent of Washington state’s residents and 86.7 percent of U.S. residents in the period 2011-2015.

Those with a bachelor’s degree or higher made up 17.7 percent of Mason County residents age 25 and older compared to 32.9 percent of state residents and 29.8 percent of U.S. residents during the same period.

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Useful links