Skagit County profile
by Anneliese Vance-Sherman, Ph.D., regional labor economist - updated January 2021
Skagit County, located in northwest Washington, is situated between Whatcom County to the north and Snohomish County to the south. The Salish Sea lies to the west and the Cascade Mountains rise to the east. The Skagit River runs through the largest population centers of the county. Although most of Skagit County is continental, several islands in the Salish Sea are also considered part of Skagit County.
Skagit County ranges in elevation from sea level to a high point of 9,114 feet at the non-volcanic peak, Mount Buckner. Glacier Peak, located in neighboring Snohomish County, is noted by the U.S. Geologic Survey as one of the “most active and explosive of Washington’s volcanoes.” Glacier Peak shaped the geography of the Skagit River valley through tremendous mud and debris flows (lahars) that have at times traveled well over 100 miles to reach the Salish Sea.
Skagit County is designated as the Mount Vernon – Anacortes Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) and is a part of the broadest Combined Statistical Area (CSA) for the Seattle region.
Locally, Skagit County is best known for its agriculture, however in 2019 the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) estimated that manufacturing was the largest contributor to county real gross domestic product (GDP). Manufacturing accounted for 32.3 percent of total GDP for the Mount Vernon – Anacortes MSA. Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting accounted for 5.2 percent of GDP.
The Coast Salish Native Americans have lived in the Skagit River valley and the Ross Lake area for millennia. The abundant fisheries and shellfish provided the major sources of protein for the Coast Salish, while fiddleheads from bracken ferns were encouraged by managed fires and camas were cultivated for their bulbs.
Settlement by non-natives began in earnest in the 1860s. Agriculture got its start when settlers discovered that creating dikes to hold back the Skagit River made much of the land suitable for farming. Logging and mining were also major industries.
The 1890s brought fish canneries, which prolonged the early development boom. County agriculture later expanded to seed production and eventually tulip growing. With the advent of modern vegetable freezing, agricultural production expanded further. Dairy production is also a large part of farming in the county today.
Like the national economy, Skagit County’s largest job-providing sector is the private service-providing sector, making up about 56.2 percent of total nonfarm employment in 2019. This share of employment has not changed substantially over the past several years.
During the Great Recession, goods-producing jobs fell from a 21 percent share of nonfarm jobs in 2007 to less than 18 percent in 2011. By 2019, goods producing industries once again made up 21 percent of total nonfarm employment.
The county has some heavy industry including oil refineries in Anacortes and a number of manufacturers that support the marine and aerospace industries, food manufacturing and other niche manufacturing businesses that contribute to a fairly well-rounded economy.
Government employers supplied nearly 23 percent of Skagit County jobs in 2019. Most government jobs are local, and many are attributable to local K-12 school districts.
|Skagit County||Rank in state|
|Land area, 2010 (square miles)||1,731.2||21|
|People per square mile, 2020||75.35||15|
Source: Washington State Office of Financial Management
Skagit County entered the Great Recession slightly before the state or the nation, experienced a greater decline, and took longer to see initial green shoots signaling a recovering labor market. By any measure, the most recent recession took its toll on this small metropolitan county.
Washington state and the U.S. both reached their lowest employment levels in 2010 and began to recover from there; Skagit County’s entry into post-recession recovery lagged by a year. From 2007 to 2011, Skagit County shed 4,000 jobs or just over 7 percent. Recovery began tentatively in 2012 and really began to take hold in 2013.
Employment in Skagit County expanded for six consecutive years from 2013 to 2019. Growth over the past few years has reached most sectors and has been relatively steady, after a rough start. In 2015, the pre-recession peak was exceeded for the first time (compared to 2013 statewide). From 2018 to 2019, Skagit County businesses added 800 jobs or 1.6 percent, with growth observed in all but two major sectors.
Current labor force and unemployment statistics are available on the Labor area summaries page on ESD’s labor market information website.
Skagit County’s unemployment rate tends to be higher than both the state and the nation in any given moment in time, but the overall trends track closely with the state. During the recent period of recession and recovery, the peak unemployment rate in Skagit County (13 percent) was observed in January 2010.
Since reaching peak unemployment levels for this cycle in 2010, the average annual unemployment rate has generally fallen every year since 2010. In 2019 the annual unemployment rate for Skagit County was 5.4 percent. Within that estimate, the labor force was comprised of 63,069 resident workers, of which 59,644 were estimated to be working and 3,425 were estimated to be seeking employment.
Source: Employment Security Department
Current industry employment statistics are available on the Labor area summaries page on ESD’s labor market information website.
- Skagit County had an average of 52,200nonfarm jobs in 2019, up 800 or 6 percent from the level observed in 2018. Washington state as a whole saw the addition of 67,100 jobs over the year, an increase of 2.0 percent.
- Manufacturing employment in Skagit County dropped by 1,000 during the Great Recession, but recovered by 2014, slightly faster than the county as a whole. Since 2014, employment has hovered around 6,000 jobs. In 2019, employment was down by 100 relative to 2018. Skagit County’s manufacturing base is diverse and includes everything from refineries and machinery manufacturers to food and wood products manufacturing.
- Construction employment tumbled from 2007 to 2011, shedding 2,000 or about 36 percent of all jobs over that time period. From 2011 to 2019, construction industry employers have collectively created about 2,200new jobs.
- Private service-providing employment averaged 29,300in 2019. From 2018 to 2019, private sector service providers collectively added 300 jobs, growing by 0 percent. Over the course of the employment recession, private sector service providers collectively lost 2,000 jobs or 5.5 percent. By 2019, the tally of private service jobs exceeded the pre-recession peak by 2,000. Employment gains were observed in all of Skagit County’s major private service-providing industries over the past year.
- Government employment in Skagit County is concentrated in local government and includes public K-12 education in addition to county, local and tribal government functions. Government employment expanded by 200 jobs or 1.9 percent from 2018 to 2019. Annual average gains were attributable to hiring by local government.
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.
Skagit County highlights:
In 2019, job holders in Skagit County’s labor market were, on average, slightly older than Washington job holders. Statewide, 22.8 percent of the workforce was age 55 or older, compared with Skagit County where 25.6 percent of the workforce was age 55 or older. Skagit County’s proportional employment of youth was comparable to the state in 2019 (Youth ages 14-24 represented 11.8 percent of Skagit County employment, compared to 11.4 percent statewide).
Employment in Skagit County was similar between men and women (51.2 percent male and 48.8 percent female). In this respect, Skagit County is also statistically similar to the state (51.4 percent and 48.6 percent male and female respectively).
- Male-dominated industries in Skagit County included construction (82.5 percent), mining (80.5 percent), transportation and warehousing (77.3 percent), manufacturing (74.5 percent), and utilities (73.9 percent).
- Female-dominated industries included healthcare and social assistance (79.0 percent), educational services (72.3 percent) and finance and insurance (71.1 percent).
Source: The Local Employment Dynamics
In 2019, Skagit County averaged 52,750 jobs covered by unemployment insurance, with a total payroll of nearly $2.8 billion dollars.
The county’s 2019 average annual wage was $52,308.
In 2019, Skagit County’s median hourly wage was $22.91, lower than the state median of $25.98.
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, per capita personal income in Skagit County was $54,505, below both the state ($64,758) and the U.S. ($56,490). Compared to other counties throughout Washington state, Skagit County ranked 9th (out of 39) for highest personal income.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Skagit County’s median household income in 2019 was $67,175; below the state median household income ($78,687), but above the national median ($65,712).
In 2019, 11.9 percent of Skagit County’s population was estimated to be living below the official poverty line. The statewide average was 9.8 percent, while the national average stood at 12.3 percent. The poverty rate for children under the age of 18 years old in Skagit County was 21.5 percent.
Source: Employment Security Department; Bureau of Labor Statistics; Bureau of Economic Analysis; U.S. Census Bureau; U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey
Skagit County’s population was estimated to be 130,450 in 2020. The county’s population expanded 11.6 percent from 2010 to 2020. This was lower than the statewide population growth rate of 13.9 percent over the same time period.
The largest city and county seat of Skagit County is Mount Vernon (population 36,050 in 2020), up 13.6 percent over 10 years. Mount Vernon was also the fastest-growing city in Skagit County over that time period. The next largest cities are Anacortes, Sedro-Woolley, Burlington and La Conner respectively.
|Skagit County||Washington state|
|Percent change, 2010 to 2020||11.6%||13.9%|
Source: Washington State Office of Financial Management
Age, gender and ethnicity
The age distribution of Skagit County residents compared to the state and the nation reflects a smaller early to mid-career working-age population and a larger 55 and older population. The proportion of children age 0 to 18 is similar to that of the state and the nation.
Compared to the state, a greater proportion of Skagit County residents identify as white (90.3 percent) compared to 78.5 percent. Looking at ethnicity, Skagit County has a greater proportion of Hispanic or Latino residents (18.6 percent compared to 13.0 percent statewide).
|Skagit County||Washington state|
|Population by age, 2019|
|Under 5 years old||5.8%||6.0%|
|Under 18 years old||21.5%||21.8%|
|65 years and older||21.5%||15.9%|
|American Indian, Alaskan Native||2.7%||1.9%|
|Asian, Native Hawaiian, other Pacific Islander||2.7%||10.4%|
|Hispanic or Latino, any race||18.6%||13.0%|
In Skagit County, 90.2 percent of adults age 25 and older in 2019 were estimated to have graduated from high school. This compares to 91.3 percent for Washington state and 88.0 percent nationally.
There were proportionately fewer residents in Skagit County with college degrees than in the state. Slightly more than 26.2 percent of Skagit County residents age 25 and up had completed bachelor’s degrees or higher, compared to 36.0 percent for the state.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts
- County data tables
- Census Bureau County Profile
- 2020 Census State Profile
- Center for Business and Economics Research, Western Washington University
- Economic Development Alliance of Skagit County
- History of Skagit County
- Northwest Washington Labor Market Review (Monthly)
- Northwest Workforce Development Council
- Port of Anacortes
- Port of Skagit County
- Skagit Council of Governments
- Skagit County Extension
- Skagit County home page
- Skagit County on ChooseWashington.com
- Skagit County on ofm.wa.gov
- U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis Regional Economic Accounts
- Self Sufficiency Calculator for Washington State
- U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts
- Workforce Development Areas and WorkSource Office Directory