Pierce County profile

Washington state map with Pierce county highlightedby Jim Vleming, regional labor economist - updated January 2021

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

Pierce County has continued to be a leader in the greater Puget Sound regional economy. The Economic Development Board for Tacoma-Pierce County has published its 2019 Major Employers list – a list of the top employers in Pierce County, based on their full-time employees count. Healthcare service providers continue to be Pierce County’s largest private employers. MultiCare Health System (8,264) and CHI Franciscan Health (5,682) are ranked number 2 and 4 overall in 2019. Safeway and Albertson’s (2,106), Boeing (1,550), State Farm (1,461), Fred Meyer retail and distribution center (1,364), Amazon distribution centers (1,200), Costco (1,200), Milgard Manufacturing (880), Target and Walmart (878 each) round out the top 10 private sector employers for 2019.

As the state’s second largest employer, the United States Military (Joint Base Lewis-McChord) remains Pierce County’s largest public employer with 54,000 FTEs. The State of Washington (7,745), City of Tacoma and Tacoma Public Utilities (3,653), Puyallup Tribe (3,422), Pierce County Government (3,118), and United States Postal Service (1,336) retained their places as the top non-education private sector employers.

Public instruction is a large source of employment in the county, and many of the top places are held by school districts: Tacoma (3,481), Puyallup (2,690), Bethel (2,565), Clover Park (1,680), Sumner (1,323), Peninsula (1,221), and Franklin Pierce (1,135).

Other notable employers in the transportation, distribution and logistics sectors are Pierce Transit (985), Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad (457), Port of Tacoma and Northwest Seaport Alliance (269), US Foods (260), Associated Petroleum (275), Olympic Eagle Distributing (210), and U.S. Oil and Refining (197).

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Geographic facts

Pierce County Rank in state
 Land area, 2010 (square miles) 1,669.5  23 
 People per square mile, 2010 476.3

Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts

Outlook

The county was looking towards a fairly robust 2020 when the Covid-19 pandemic hit in March. Now the outlook is less than predictable, with many factors playing a role in the pandemic recovery and the past the impacts of the most recent recession. The county in 2020 experienced rising unemployment rates paired with shrinking nonfarm payrolls through July, and slow job growth as 2020 ended. Compared to 2019, those facts will remain much the same as we turn the calendar and try to gain some economic footing in these challenging times.

The March COVID-19 related shutdown immediately slashed jobs in many sectors of the economy, with the trade and leisure and hospitality sectors being particularly hard hit. Since March there have been several reopening phases of the economy, but as the holidays approached and the virus remained rampant further lockdowns went into effect. While the orders will eventually be lifted, restrictions will continue to mar any recovery, hand in hand with the cautious consumer mood for shopping and travel.

Labor force and unemployment

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

The size of the Pierce County labor force in 2020 thru November averaged 456,171, up over 15,000 from 2019. The average annual unemployment rate continued to decline from the 10.4 percent rate of 2010. The average annual rate in 2020, through November was 9.0 percent, a far cry from the annual average rate of 5.1 that was posted in 2019. The first quarter of 2021 could see unemployment rates above 2019 levels as well.

Source: Employment Security Department

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Industry employment

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

Pierce County total nonfarm employment bottomed out from the effects of the recession in 2010 and continued to expand through 2019. Between 2018 and 2019, nonfarm payrolls grew over 5,700 jobs. There were strong gains in most sectors of the local economy. The middle of March 2020 put a brake to that growth.

  • Pierce County had 312,300 nonfarm jobs on average thru November 2020, this total compared to the 2019 total of 327,100.
  • Most of the jobs in Pierce County are private sector jobs, which made up the majority of total nonfarm jobs in 2020.
  • Trade, transportation and utilities (67,100 jobs), government (56,900) and educational health services (56,400) were the peak industries in the county in 2020.

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.

Pierce County highlights:

In 2019, the largest job holder age group in Pierce County was the 55 and older age category, making up 23.2 percent of jobs across all industries. The next largest share is among people age 35 to 44 with 22.2 percent of jobs.

Males held 48.5 percent of jobs and females held 51.5 percent of jobs in 2019.

  • Male-dominated industries included mining (86.4 percent), construction (80.1 percent) and manufacturing (74.8 percent).
  • Female-dominated industries included healthcare and social assistance (78.0 percent), educational services (72.3 percent), and finance and insurance (68.3 percent).

Source: The Local Employment Dynamics

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Wages and income

In 2019, there were 316,632 jobs in Pierce County covered by unemployment insurance, with a total payroll of over $17 billion. The average annual wage in 2019 was $54,291, below the state’s average annual wage of $69,615.

The median hourly wage in 2018 was $23.85, which surpasses the state’s median hourly wage of $22.37 when King County is excluded but falls below the state’s median hourly wage of $25.98 when King County is included.

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.

In 2019, the per capita personal income was $53,572, less than the state ($64,758) and the nation ($56,490). It ranks 11th among Washington state counties in per capita personal income.

In 2019, 9.1 percent of the population in Pierce County was living below the poverty level, compared to the state at 9.8 percent and the nation at 12.3 percent. 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

Population

Pierce County’s population in 2020 was estimated to be 900,700. The county has added over 105,000 residents since 2010 and matches the state’s growth rate.

The largest city in Pierce County is Tacoma, with 213,300 residents.

Population facts

Pierce County Washington state
 Population 2020 900,700  7,656,200 
 Population 2010 795,225  6,724,540 
 Percent change, 2010 to 2020 13.26%  13.85% 

Source: Washington Office of Financial Management

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Age, gender and ethnicity

Pierce County had proportionately more young people (below the age of 18) and fewer older residents (65 and older) than the state in 2019.

  • Pierce County had 6.6 percent of its population under the age of 5 years compared to the state’s share of 6.0 percent.
  • Those under the age of 18 made up 23.3 percent of Pierce County’s population compared to 21.8 percent of the state’s population.
  • The oldest age group, those 65 and older, made up 14.2 percent of Pierce County’s population compared to 15.9 percent of the state’s population.

Females made up 50.1 percent of the population in Pierce County compared with 49.9 percent of the population in Washington state.

Pierce County has been becoming more diverse along racial and ethnic lines. Black residents made up 7.7 percent of Pierce County’s total population compared to 4.4 percent of the state’s population.

Demographics

Pierce County Washington state
 Population by age, 2019
Under 5 years old 6.6%  6.0% 
Under 18 years old 23.3%  21.8% 
65 years and older 14.2%  15.9% 
 Females, 2019 50.1%  49.9% 
 Race/ethnicity, 2019
White 74.3%  78.5% 
Black 7.7%  4.4% 
American Indian, Alaskan Native 1.8%  1.9% 
Asian, Native Hawaiian, other Pacific Islander 8.9%  10.4% 
Hispanic or Latino, any race 11.4%  13.0% 


Educational attainment

Most Pierce County residents age 25 and older (91.5 percent) were high school graduates, higher than the state with 91.3 percent, compared with 88.0 percent of U.S. residents in the period 2015 to 2019.

Those with a bachelor’s degree or higher made up 27.2 percent of Pierce County residents age 25 and older compared to 36.0 percent of state residents and 32.1 percent of U.S. residents during the same period.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts

  

Useful links

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