Wahkiakum County profile
by Scott Bailey, regional labor economist - updated January, 2020
Wahkiakum is a small, heavily-forested, beautiful county located on the Columbia River roughly fifteen miles inland from the Pacific Ocean. Logging is the main industry, and local government is a major source of jobs and wages. The county is an attractive place to retire, and more than a quarter of the county’s personal income comes from transfer payments such as Social Security and Medicare.
Wahkiakum County has an ideal climate for growing Douglas fir trees on a short rotation. It is relatively isolated in terms of transportation infrastructure, linked by Highway 2 to the Longview area (eastward) and Ilwaco (westward). In addition, the county operates a ferry from Cathlamet to Westport, Oregon. As a result, the county has kept a largely rural feel, with much of its land devoted to forests.
|Wahkiakum County||Rank in state|
|Land area, 2010 (square miles)||263.4||37|
|Persons per square mile, 2010||15.1||30|
(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)
Wahkiakum County had the largest percentage drop in employment of any county in the state during the 2008 to 2009 recession. Since hitting bottom, there has been very little change in job counts. That situation doesn’t look to change significantly any time soon.
(Source: Employment Security Department)
Current labor force and unemployment statistics are available on the Labor area summaries page.
The county labor force was estimated at 1,373 through the first 11 months of 2019, with an unemployment rate of 6.8 percent. Both measures were up slightly from 2018. Unemployment peaked most recently at 15.3 percent in 2010, after rising from the cyclical low of 7.2 percent in 2006.
According to the Census Bureau, just over half (53 percent) of the county’s employed residents worked outside the county in the 2012 to 2016 period. One out of six worked in Cowlitz County, while 9 percent worked in Pacific County and 7 percent commuted to Clatsop County, Oregon. About 40 percent of the workers who held jobs in Wahkiakum County, lived outside the county, with 17 percent living in Cowlitz County.
Bureau of Economic Analysis data shows that 61 percent of earned income in the county came from residents holding jobs outside the county, while 23 percent of wages at county employers went to workers who lived outside of the county.
Source: Employment Security Department
Current industry employment statistics are available on the Labor area summaries page.
Wahkiakum County employment grew steadily during most of the 1990s, and then stabilized around 850 jobs from 1998 to 2008. Job growth came in construction, logging, manufacturing, local government and non-retail services.
Employment fell to 700 nonfarm jobs in 2012, and has remained in the low 700s since then. Preliminary estimates for 2019 place total nonfarm jobs at 750. Logging employment, at 80 jobs in 2019, was about half of its mid-2000’s level. Construction (60 jobs) and manufacturing (70 jobs) were a bit higher than before the recession. Most of the job loss was in the “all other services” category, which dropped from 260 jobs in 2008 to 180 jobs in 2019. Part of the decline was due to the closure of the Columbia Care Center nursing home. Government employed 300, mostly in K-12 schools (90) and other local agencies like the county government (200).
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 is presented by place of work, not place of residence. Some highlights:
For jobs located in Wahkiakum County in 2018, about 53 percent were held by males, and 47 percent by females – while the state was split closer to 52/48. Two industries in the county are dominated by male workers: agriculture/logging (84 percent male), construction (88 percent). Women were predominant in healthcare and social assistance (87 percent), hospitality (72 percent) and education (67 percent). The average wage for female workers was 62 percent of the average for male workers.
Wahkiakum’s workforce was much older than the state average, with 33 percent aged 55 and older, versus 22 percent statewide.
(Source: The Local Employment Dynamics)
In 2018, Wahkiakum employers paid out $27.6 million in wages, a 6 percent increase over 2017. Employment also increased slightly, by just over 1 percent. The average annual wage for jobs in the county rose by 2.8 percent to $37,292, the highest on record.
The charts below contrast industry shares of employment and wages covered by unemployment insurance in the county. The biggest difference: agriculture/forestry (primarily logging) supplied 18 percent of the jobs in the county, and 25 percent of total wages.
Covered employment in 2018
Covered wages in 2018
The median hourly wage for non-federal jobs in Wahkiakum County was $22.16 in 2018, 1 percent above the 2017 level. Wahkiakum’s median was almost $4.00 per hour below the median for the entire state. Wahkiakum matched the state median back in 1998, but wages have grown slowly since then.
Median household income averaged $54,085 for the 2014 to 2018 period – substantially higher than the $44,619 inflation-adjusted median for the 2009 to 2013 period. Median family income was up 33 percent (to $68,309) over the same period.
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 2018, county per capita income was $42,423. That was 32 percent below the state average and 22 percent below the national average. The gap between the county and the state and nation narrowed after the Great Recession hit. Since then, the gap with the nation has stabilized and the gap with the state has resumed widening.
Wahkiakum residents are much more dependent upon investment income and transfer payments like Social Security and Medicare than most areas. Thirty-one percent of county income came from transfer payments in 2018, almost twice that of the state’s 17 percent. On a per capita basis, the differences were mostly due to Wahkiakum’s older population: higher Social Security and Medicare payments.
|Per capita transfer payments||U.S.||State||Wahkiakum County|
|Social Security benefits||$2,972||$2,940||$5,634|
|Public assistance medical care benefits||$1,865||$1,712||$1,718|
|Income maintenance benefits||$794||$809||$854|
|Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits||$174||$137||$171|
|Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)||$175||$163||$165|
|Unemployment insurance compensation||$84||$137||$80|
(Source: Employment Security Department; Bureau of Labor Statistics; Bureau of Economic Analysis; U.S. Census Bureau; U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey)
Wahkiakum’s population was estimated at 4,426 in 2018, with a growth rate less than the state’s.
|Wahkiakum County||Washington state|
|Percent change, 2010 to 2018||11.2%||12.1%|
Age, gender and ethnicity
Wahkiakum’s population is much older than the state and nation. In 2018:
- 18 percent of the county was below the age of 20, versus 25 percent statewide.
- 15 percent was aged 20 to 39, a little more than half the statewide average of 27 percent.
- 23 percent was aged 40 to 59, almost the same as the state’s 25 percent.
- 44 percent was aged 60 or older, double the state average of 22 percent.
The county is also less diverse: in 2018, 91 percent of the population was white and non-Latino, compared with 68 percent in Washington and 61 percent in the U.S.
(Source: Office of Financial Management)
|Wahkiakum County||Washington state|
|Population by age, 2018|
|Under 5 years old||3.1%||6.1%|
|Under 18 years old||17.3%||22.1%|
|65 years and older||32.2%||15.4%|
|American Indian, Alaskan Native||1.6%||1.9%|
|Asian, Native Hawaiian, other Pacific Islander||2.0%||10.1%|
|Hispanic or Latino, any race||5.3%||12.9%|
(Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Office of Financial Management)
Wahkiakum residents are less likely to have a college degree, and also less likely to have dropped out of high school, than the state and nation. Only 9 percent of adults in the county failed to finish high school (vs. 12 percent nationally), and 19 percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher (vs. 31 percent nationally).
Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts
- County data tables
- Census Bureau Profile
- Wahkiakum County on ofm.wa.gov
- Wahkiakum County on ChooseWashington.com
- Wahkiakum County History
- Wahkiakum County home page
- Port of Wahkiakum County No. 2
- Wahkiakum County Chamber of Commerce
- Southwest Washington Economic Development Commission (SWEDC)
- Self Sufficiency Calculator for Washington State
- U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts
- Washington Ports