Whitman County profile

Washington state map with Whitman county highlightedby Doug Tweedy, regional labor economist - updated October 2018

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


Regional context

Whitman County covers 2,159.09 square miles of land, ranking 10th in size among Washington’s 39 counties. Whitman County was named after Marcus Whitman, an early pioneering missionary in the western states. The county is part of the Palouse region with wide and rolling landscapes. Located in southeastern Washington, it borders seven Washington counties and three Idaho counties. It is ranked 26th in population with a population density of 20.7 people per square mile.

The county is mostly agricultural land that’s specialized in farming barley, wheat, dry peas and lentils. Pullman is the largest city mainly due to the Washington State University student population. The county seat is at Colfax, the second largest city.

Local economy

The largest employer, Washington State University (WSU), conducts transformational research and provides world-class education to more than 30,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional students. Founded in 1890 in Pullman, it is Washington’s original land-grant university, with a mission of improving quality of life. Thirty percent of county employment is at WSU.

Agriculture continues to play an oversized role, not in terms of total employment but in terms of economic impact. In the first half of 2018 wheat prices dropped, which will effect county wholesale sales, retail sales and the overall level of money flowing through the economy.

Traditionally, employment in Whitman County tends to grow at a very slow and steady rate. Much of this trend is due to education employment’s dominant share of total employment. Interestingly, the relative size of education employment has shrunk as other industries have increased their total number of jobs. For the last 7 years, manufacturing employment has grown. This trend towards greater diversification is a welcome development in county employment.

(back to top)

Geographic facts

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Whitman County Rank in state
 Land area, 2010 (square miles) 2,159.09  10 
 Persons per square mile, 2010 20.7  26 

(back to top)


Agriculture employment is expected to continue its very slow growth in terms of jobs, as wheat production continues to become more mechanized. In 2018, wheat production was high but prices dropped, which has farmers concerned for the economic future. In addition, as farmers age finding replacement workers will be a challenge.

Export-related manufacturing and technical educational services are a source of positive growth for the county’s economy. Unlike agriculture, as overall economic conditions change around the world, the types of products manufactured and education (WSU) in Whitman County are somewhat resistant to down cycles, which gives the county greater strength and diversity in its economy.

Employment at Washington State University continues to recover. Student enrollments keep increasing and the university added a new College of Medical Sciences to go along with the Colleges of Nursing and Pharmacy.

(back to top)

Labor force and unemployment

(Source: Employment Security Department)

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

The Whitman County civilian labor force for the first eight months of 2018 averaged 22,908, which is a decrease of 90 over the same period a year ago. The decrease in the labor force was due to a slight decrease in agricultural employment.

The average annual unemployment rate in Whitman County is always one of the lowest in the state. The unemployment rate fluctuates throughout the year, reflecting its seasonal changes in higher education employment. In the first eight months of 2018 the unemployment rate averaged 4.6 percent.

(back to top)

Industry employment

(Source: Employment Security Department)

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

Nonfarm employment in the county started recovering from the national recession in 2011 following national and state trends. The increases have been modest, but are accelerating.

  • Goods-producing employment increased in the first half of 2018; manufacturing accounted for a majority of the growth. Planned expansions in manufacturing will increase manufacturing jobs into 2019.
  • Service-providing employment also increased in the first half of 2018. The hot employment sector was professional and business services. 

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 is presented by place of work, not place of residence. Some highlights:

Whitman County job holders in 2017 were almost equally distributed between two major age groups. The age group 25 to 34 accounted for 23.4 percent of employment, while 55 and older made up 22.7 percent of employment.

In 2017, 51.7 percent of all industry jobs were held by men and 48.3 percent were held by women. Industry differences are discussed below:

  • Male-dominated industries included agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting (79.6 percent), construction (84.1 percent), wholesale trade (80.0 percent), transportation and warehousing (80.3 percent) and utilities (77.4 percent).
  • Female-dominated industries included healthcare and social assistance (76.9 percent) and finance and insurance (66.7 percent).

(back to top)

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 2017, Whitman County had 18,585 jobs covered by unemployment insurance, with a total payroll of over $868.8 million.

The county average annual wage was $46,749 in 2017, which is well below the state’s average annual wage of $62,077. In 2017, Whitman County ranked 12th for average annual wages among 39 counties in the state.

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 2016 the per capita income in Whitman County was $35,697, below the state’s per capita income of $54,579 according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Median household income over the period 2012 to 2016 was $38,636, which is well below the state’s $62,848, according to the U.S. Census Bureau Quick Facts.

Over the period 2012 to 2016, 25.9 percent of the population was living below the poverty level in Whitman County. This is well above 11 percent for the state. This is due in large part to the college student population.

(back to top)


(Source: U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis; Washington of Financial Management)

Whitman County’s estimated population in 2017 was 49,046. Population growth in Whitman County from 2010 to 2017 was 9.5 percent, just below the state’s increase of 10.1 percent.

The largest city in the county is Pullman with population of 33,354.

Population facts

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Whitman County Washington state
 Population 2017 49,046  7,405,743 
 Population 2010 44,776  6,724,545 
 Percent change, 2010 to 2017 9.5%  10.1% 

Age, gender and ethnicity

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Whitman County’s population, due to the higher education industry concentration, is relatively young.

The county’s population age 65 and older was 10.1 percent in 2017 compared to the state’s 15.1 percent.

Diversity in the county is near state averages.


(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Whitman County Washington state
 Population by age, 2017
Under 5 years old 4.4%  6.2% 
Under 18 years old 15.1%  22.2% 
65 years and older 10.1%  15.1% 
 Females, 2017 49.2%  50.0% 
 Race/ethnicity, 2017
White alone 84.0%  79.5% 
Black 2.3%  4.2% 
American Indian, Alaskan Native 0.8%  1.9% 
Asian, Native Hawaiian, other Pacific Islander 8.6%  9.7% 
Hispanic or Latino, any race 6.4%  12.7% 

Educational attainment

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

According to Census estimates, for the period 2012 to 2016 in Whitman County, 95.8 percent of individuals age 25 and older were high school graduates, which was much higher than that of Washington State (90.6 percent).

An estimated 49.8 percent of people in Whitman County 25 and older have attained a bachelor’s degree or higher. This figure compares favorably with the state (33.6 percent).

(back to top)


Useful links

(back to top)