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Adams County Profile

Overview | Geographic facts | Outlook | Labor force and unemployment |
Industry employment | Wages and Income | Population


Regional context

Adams County is the 14th largest county in Washington state, and covers 1,925 square miles. Located in southeastern Washington, it is bounded by Lincoln County on the north, Whitman to the east, Franklin to the south and Grant on the west. Two-thirds of its population is rural as its low population density of 9.4 persons per square mile indicates. Since its creation in 1883, the area has been known as an agricultural and livestock ranching area that continues to prosper today. Wheat, corn, apples and potatoes (among other crops) are grown in Adams County.

The Palouse tribe was well established as the dominant indigenous tribe. They traveled the county, ranging their horses. The first white settlers began arriving in 1869. They found the area suitable to raising cattle, horses and sheep. Others followed, seeking land for ranching and farming.

James G. Bennett harvested a small wheat crop near Ritzville in 1880. Russian-German settlers (Volga Germans) who arrived in Adams County in 1883 had farmed wheat in Russia and planted it in Adams County. Seeing their success, other settlers also planted wheat. Adams County wheat farmers soon found that the region was so dry that they must let their fields lie fallow every other year to conserve enough moisture in the soil to raise profitable crops.

In 1897, Adams County produced its first bumper crop of wheat, marking the beginning of wheat farming's eclipse over cattle ranching in the county. The 1897 crop inspired a major influx of new settlers. In 1901 Ritzville exported more wheat than any other town in world -- two million bushels filling nearly 2,000 boxcars. By 1904, Ritzville was the largest initial shipping point for wheat in the United States. By 1909, giddy with prosperity, Adams County published a pamphlet distributed at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle. The pamphlet reads, "Adams County, Washington, the bread basket of the world. However, a severe drought from 1928-1931 resulted in dustbowl conditions and many people left the area. The remaining wheat farmers consolidated the abandoned farms and worked thousands of acres to produce a commercial crop.

In addition to its agriculture and livestock ranching, Adams County has some unique recreation and tourism draws. Othello hosts an annual Sandhill Cranes Festival the third weekend in March, where thousands of bird watchers attend. The refuge is an excellent environment for wintering ducks, geese and many other varieties of waterfowl. The Sandhill Cranes Festival takes place at the Wildlife Refuge, and is supported by the Othello Chamber of Commerce. The refuge includes 23,200 acres immediately downstream from Potholes Reservoir, and another 6,000 acres of scattered tracts toward the Columbia River.

Local economy

Adams County started as an agriculturally based area, and is still agriculturally based today. There are both dry-land based crops, such as wheat along with irrigated farming that supports apple orchards and potato fields. Today, Adams County is one of the largest wheat producers in the state.

Being an agriculturally based area, Adams County has various non-durable goods manufacturing, particularly vegetable and fruit processing. The highlight of this type of manufacturing consists of their French fry production, which provides most of the county’s manufacturing employment.

Agriculture, local government and manufacturing (particularly food processing) account for approximately 60 percent of total covered employment in Adams County. The transportation sector is another major area of employment, which aids local agricultural and manufacturing employers.

According to the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) the national recession occurred from December 2007 through June 2009. Many counties in Central Washington lost jobs following the recession and even Adams County saw total covered employment dip from 6,834 jobs in 2008 to an average of 6,771 in 2009. But total covered employment countywide advanced for the next four consecutive years. Specifically, total covered employment increased annually from 2009 (6,771 jobs) through 2013 (7,378 jobs). Why? Agriculture, wholesale trade (primarily of nondurable/agricultural goods) and transportation and warehousing all added jobs during the four calendar years between 2009 and 2013.


Geographic facts

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Adams County Washington state
Land area, 2010 (square miles) 1,924.98 66,455.52
Persons per square mile, 2010 9.7 101.2



The national recession occurred from December 2007 through June 2009. As previously mentioned, the effects were felt in Adams County primarily between 2008 and 2009 as total covered employment (which includes agricultural and nonagricultural jobs) fell from 6,834 jobs to 6,771, a 63 job and 0.9 percent downturn. Total covered employment countywide then increased modestly from 2010 through 2013 (annual average covered employment data for 2014 has not yet been published). Basically, agriculture “saved the day” for the Adams County economy during this period.

The employment picture painted by Adams County’s nonfarm employment sector from 2008 through 2013 was not quite as promising. In fact, total nonfarm employment in Adams County was basically stagnant during this six-year period. The local nonfarm labor market provided 5,640 jobs in 2008 and tallied 5,620 in 2013. The “apex” was the 5,650 job average in calendar year 2010. The “trough” was the 5,620 jobs registered in 2013. The short-story is that there was little movement, up or down, in the nonfarm labor market during this six-year period. However, in 2014 the Adams County economy broke out of the doldrums. Total nonfarm employment rose to 5,800. This meant that 180 new nonfarm jobs were generated in Adams County between 2013 and 2014, a 2.4 percent upturn. Although this was not as robust as Washington state’s 2.8 percent job growth pace in 2014, it was the fastest job growth rate in Adams County in at least the past ten years.

April 2015 nonfarm employment estimates (Current Employment Statistics) from the Employment Security Department’s Labor Market and Program Analysis (LMPA) branch show that total nonfarm employment in Adams County has increased year over year for the past 16 months (January 2014 through April 2015). Total nonfarm employment grew 3.1 percent (up 180 jobs) in April 2015 to 5,940 from the 5,760 jobs tallied in April 2014. Hence, recent nonfarm employment estimates show a labor market continuing to grow in the first few months of 2015 at a pace at, or above, the 2.4 percent clip experienced during 2014.

Developing an employment outlook for Adams County can be much more involved than evaluating recent total covered employment and nonfarm employment trends. Nevertheless, according to LMPA’s ten-year nonfarm employment projections, the North Central Workforce Development Area (i.e., Adams, Chelan, Douglas, Grant and Okanogan counties) is expected to grow at an annual pace of 1.7 percent between 2013 and 2023 versus a statewide growth pace of 1.8 percent.

To help supplement LMPA’s official, five-county employment projections, the following information, unique to Adams County, is provided. Adams County’s warehousing and distribution industries are primarily dependent on agriculture and these industries may benefit from a recent site selection study completed by a location consultant firm based in Princeton, N.J. A May 7, 2015 Columbia Basin Herald article entitled “Boyd study shows great promise for Adams County” summarized some of the study’s findings, as follows:

“A site selection study recently completed by The Boyd Company, a location consultant firm in Princeton, N.J., identified Ritzville as having the second-lowest distribution warehouse operating costs of the 25 cities across the nation that were analyzed. The Adams County Development Council (ACDC) engaged with The Boyd Company for the first time in November about completing regional analytics regarding the county being a positive site for economic growth in certain sectors. The distribution warehousing report was the first bout of good news for ACDC, as it effectively identified Adams County - namely, Ritzville - as a premier destination for corporate development in the distribution industry.

John Boyd, Jr., a principal owner of The Boyd Company, said the cities involved in the comparative study were identified as premier markets in the country for distribution projects. The study named Ritzville as the lowest-cost city among all western locations in the analysis and second-lowest overall. "It (the study) documents some very compelling advantages for Ritzville in the distribution sector," Boyd said. "We project Ritzville really being on the national radar screen for new distribution projects," he said. Ritzville was measured against other similarly small markets in the analysis. All of the cities, Boyd said, had common denominators which included a great transportation framework and proximity to intermodal rail. Positioned on I-90 and near state Route 395, Ritzville has easy access to the Port of Seattle and the BNSF intermodal site in Spokane. Despite other advantages, Ritzville really distanced itself from competing markets in the analysis with its low cost of utilities.”

Labor force and unemployment

(Source: Employment Security Department)

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

In the most recent ten-year period (2005-2014, inclusive) the average unemployment rate (not seasonally adjusted) in Adams County peaked in 2010 and it has decreased in each of the four years since, as follows:

  • In 2010 the Adams County unemployment rate was 10.5 percent.
  • In 2011 the Adams County unemployment rate was 9.9 percent.
  • In 2012 the Adams County unemployment rate was 9.4 percent.
  • In 2013 the Adams County unemployment rate was 8.8 percent.
  • In 2014 the Adams County unemployment rate was 7.7 percent. This was the lowest average annual unemployment rate since 2008 (six years prior) when the County’s rate was 6.2 percent.

In the most recent ten-year period (2005-2014, inclusive) the average unemployment rate (not seasonally adjusted) in Washington state also peaked in 2010 and also decreased in each of the four years since, as follows:

  • In 2010 the Washington state unemployment rate was 10.0 percent.
  • In 2011 the Washington state unemployment rate was 9.2 percent.
  • In 2012 the Washington state unemployment rate was 8.1 percent.
  • In 2013 the Washington state unemployment rate was 7.0 percent.
  • In 2014 the Washington state unemployment rate was 6.2 percent. This was the lowest average annual unemployment rate since 2008 (six years prior) when the state’s rate was 5.4 percent.

On an annual average basis, Adams County's civilian labor force (CLF) grew 1.8 percent in 2014 to 8,540 residents. The labor force also expanded in 2013, from 8,270 residents to 8,390 (up 1.5 percent) and in 2012 (up a modest 0.2 percent), following a large 2.3 percent contraction in 2011.

More recent, monthly labor force trends also are encouraging in Adams County. The CLF has expanded for the past 14 consecutive months (March 2014 through April 2015). Between the Aprils of 2014 and 2015 the labor force rose from 8,440 to 8,700 residents, a 260 resident and 3.1 percent upturn. Simultaneously, fewer residents were unemployed in April 2015 versus the corresponding month in 2014 (550 residents were unemployed in April 2015 versus 500 in April 2014). The result: Adams County’s unemployment rate decreased during this timeframe from 6.5 percent to 5.8 percent, a seven-tenths point year-over-year decrease.

Between 2013 and 2014, Washington's labor market provided 82,900 new nonfarm jobs, an annual average increase of 2.8 percent. As of April 2015, businesses and government organizations across Washington supplied 3,152,100 nonfarm jobs (not seasonally adjusted), compared to 3,041,400 jobs in April 2014, a 3.6 percent year-over-year employment increase. The state’s economy has posted nonfarm employment increases for the past 55 consecutive months (October 2010 through April 2015).


Industry employment

(Source: Employment Security Department)

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

The North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) is an industry classification system that assigns every businesses and government organization in America a six-digit NAICS code based primarily on the activities in which that business or government organization is engaged. All business and government organizations are also more broadly categorized into one of 22 two-digit NAICS sectors. Nineteen sectors are in private enterprise and three sectors are in government service – either at the federal, the state, or the local level

The top five Adams County sectors in 2013 in terms of employment were:

(Source: Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW))

Number of jobs Share of employment
1. Agriculture, forestry and fishing 1,896 25.7%
2. Local government 1,434 19.4%
3. Manufacturing 1,074 14.6%
4. Retail trade 569 7.7%
5. Health Services 495 6.7%
All other industries 1,910 25.9%
Total covered employment 7,378 100%

Covered employment and wage trends over the last nine years (from 2004 through 2013) were analyzed using the Employment Security Department’s annual average Quarterly Census of Employment and Wage (QCEW) data for the 22 two-digit NAICS sectors in Adams County. Following are some of the findings:

  • In 2013, QCEW data showed that Adams County’s labor market provided 7,378 jobs. Almost three-quarters (74.1 percent) of all local jobs were in five (agriculture, local government, manufacturing, retail trade and health services) two-digit NAICS industries or sectors. Hence, the Adams County economy is not very diverse. A little over one quarter of covered employment was in the agricultural, forestry and fishing sector (in which the lion’s share of jobs are in the agricultural industry).
  • In 2013, approximately $256.9 million of wage income was paid countywide. Agricultural employers provided 21.7 percent of it, or $55.6 million. Local government was a close second accounting for 20.4 percent or $52.4 million. Hence, agriculture and local government combined provided over four out of every ten dollars of wages earned in Adams County during 2013.
  • Between 2004 and 2013, the industry in Adams County which added the most jobs was manufacturing (primarily food manufacturing/processing). In 2004 manufacturers provided 868 jobs, 12.6 percent of total covered employment. By 2013 this industry tallied 1,074 jobs and accounted for 14.6 percent of all covered employment countywide. This 206 job and 23.7 percent uptrend indicates not only is the manufacturing industry key to the Adams County economy, but that its “footprint” in the local labor market has grown in the past nine years.
  • Between 2004 and 2013, the industry that lost the most jobs was retail trade. This sector provided 638 jobs and 9.3 percent of total covered employment in 2004. By 2013, retail trade accounted for only 569 jobs or 7.7 percent of all covered employment. This 69 job and 10.8 percent downturn indicates that retail trade has become relatively less of a player in the Adams County economy during this nine-year period, since its “footprint” in the local labor market has shrunk during this timeframe. This may indicate more residents are shopping in neighboring metropolitan areas, or are purchasing more goods/services through the Internet.

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:

The largest jobholder group in Adams County in 2013 was the 55 and older age group with 23.3 percent of the workforce. They were closely followed by the 25-34 age group with 21.6 percent of the workforce.

In 2013, 51.9 percent of all industry jobs were held by men and 48.1 percent were held by women. Industry differences are discussed below:

  • Male-dominated industries included construction (85.9 percent), transportation and warehousing (85.9 percent), utilities (80.8 percent) and wholesale trade (77.9 percent).
  • Female-dominated industries included healthcare and social assistance (79.4 percent), finance and insurance (76.8 percent), other services (73.1 percent) and educational services (70.8 percent).

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 2013 there were 7,378 jobs in Adams County covered by unemployment insurance, with a total payroll of over $256.9 million. The county annual average wage was $34,821 in 2013, well below the state’s average annual wage of $53,030. In 2013, Adams County was ranked 27th (out of 39 counties) in the state for average annual wages.

The top five Adams County sectors in 2013 in terms of payrolls were:

(Source: Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW))

Payroll Share of payrolls
1. Agriculture, forestry and fishing $ 55,647,281 21.7%
2. Local government $ 52,399,079 20.4%
3. Manufacturing $ 48,444,607 18.9%
4. Wholesale trade $ 24,404,206 9.5%
5. Health Services $ 20,747,827 8.1%
All other industries $55,268,045 21.5%
Total covered payrolls $256,911,045 100%

The Adams County median hourly wage was $15.77 in 2013, which was well below the state’s median hourly wage of $22.09.

Personal income

Personal income includes earned income, investment income and government transfer 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.

Per capita personal income in Adams County was $40,993 in 2013. This figure is below the state’s figure of $47,717 and the nation’s figure of $44,765. A long-term trend (for roughly the last 30 years) is that the percent of residents’ personal income coming from earnings has been shrinking. A more recent, or short-term trend, is that transfer payment percentages have been decreasing (from a peak of 23 percent in 2009 to 18 percent in 2013) while investment income has been increasing (from 23 percent in 2009 to a peak of 27 percent in 2013). Following are some Adams County personal income data, in ten-year increments:

  • In 1983, 68 percent of personal income in Adams County came from earnings, 21 percent from investments and 11 percent from transfer payments.
  • In 1993, 62 percent of personal income came from earnings, 20 percent from investments and 17 percent from transfer payments.
  • In 2003, 61 percent of personal income came from earnings, 19 percent from investments and 20 percent from transfer payments.
  • In 2013, 54 percent of personal income came from earnings, 27 percent from investments and 18 percent from transfer payments.

According to U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts, the median household income was $43,926, which is significantly below the state’s at $59,478 over the period 2009 to 2013.

In the period 2009 to 2013, 22.9 percent of the county’s population was living below poverty level, which is much higher than 13.4 percent for Washington state and 15.4 percent for the nation, according to U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts.



(Source: U.S. Census Bureau)

Adams County’s population was 18,728 in 2010. From April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2014 the county grew 2.4 percent, less robust that Washington state’s 5.0 percent growth rate.

The largest city in Adams County is Othello with an estimated population of 7,695 in 2014. The second-largest city is Ritzville with an estimated population of 1,680 in 2014. Othello is growing much faster than other, smaller cities in Adams County.

Population facts

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Adams County Washington state
Population 2014 estimate 19,179 7,061,530
Population 2010 (April 1) estimates base 18,728 6,724,543
Percent change, April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2014 2.4% 5.0%

Age, gender and ethnicity

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Adams County, as a percent, had a much younger age demographic than the state or nation in 2013.

  • Adams County’s population age 65 and older was 10.2 percent in 2012 compared to the state’s 13.6 percent.
  • The largest age group, those under 18 years of age, was 35.0 percent in 2013 compared to the state’s 22.9 percent.
  • The youngest age group, those under 5 years of age, was 10.7 percent in 2013 compared to the state’s 6.4 percent.

Females’ made up 49.2 percent of the population in Adams County in 2013, which is slightly below the state’s 50.0 percent.

The county has a much higher percentage of persons of Hispanic or Latino origin, 61.4 percent, compared to the state’s 11.9 percent. White persons who are not of Hispanic descent made up 36.2 percent of the county’s population compared to 71.0 percent of the state’s population.


(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Adams County Washington state
Population by age, 2013
Under 5 years old 10.7% 6.4%
Under 18 years old 35.0% 22.9%
65 years and older 10.2% 13.6%
Females, 2013 49.2% 50.0%
Race/ethnicity, 2013
White 91.0% 81.2%
Black 1.3% 4.0%
American Indian, Alaskan Native 4.7% 1.9%
Asian, Native Hawaiian, Other Pacific Islander 1.5% 8.6%
Hispanic or Latino, any race 61.4% 11.9%

Educational attainment

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Over the period 2009 to 2013, 65.7 percent of individuals age 25 and older were high school graduates. This figure is considerably lower than that of Washington state (90.0 percent) and the nation (86.0 percent).

Over the same period, 14.0 percent of Adams County residents 25 and older have a bachelor’s degree or higher compared with the state (31.9 percent) and nation (28.8 percent).