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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.

Adams County saw its first railroad in 1881. Success in wheat farming was noted in 1897, which then spurred settlement, resulting in increasing numbers of wheat farms. By 1909, Adams County described itself as the “bread basket of the world.”

A drought in the late 1920s resulted in many settlers leaving the area. Those who remained consolidated their wheat farms 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. Adams County was the exception. Total covered employment increased annual from 2009 (6,771 jobs) through 2012 (7,198 jobs). Why? Agriculture, manufacturing (primarily food processing), wholesale trade and professional and business services all added jobs during calendar years 2010, 2011 and 2012. The 2013 covered employment and wage data looks similar to 2012.


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 Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) announced that the national recession occurred from December 2007 through June 2009. The effects of this recession did not hit Adams County’s nonfarm labor market as heavily in 2009 and 2010 as many other central Washington counties and in fact, total covered employment actually rose during calendar years 2010, 2011 and 2012 (as mentioned previously). Basically, agriculture “saved the day” for the Adams County economy during this period. On an annual average basis, nonfarm employment in Adams County:

  • Contracted from 5,470 in 2008 to 5,430 in 2009, a 40 job and 0.7 percent decline.
  • Dipped from 5,430 in 2009 to 5,410 in 2010, a 20 job and 0.4 percent downturn.
  • Rose from 5,410 in 2010 to 5,420 in 2011, a 10 job and 0.2 percent upturn.
  • Stabilized at 5,420 jobs in 2011 and in 2012.

November 2013 nonfarm employment estimates (Current Employment Statistics) from the Employment Security Department’s Labor Market and Program Analysis (LMPA) branch show:

  • Nonfarm employment in Adams County decreased year-over-year from June through October 2013, but increased 0.9 percent between November 2012 (5,380 jobs) and November 2013 (5,430 jobs).
  • Washington's labor market has grown for 38 months (from October 2010-November 2013). In November 2013 total nonfarm employment provided 2,960,900 full- and part-time jobs statewide.

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 nonfarm employment projections, the County is expected to grow at an annual pace of 1.3 percent between 2011 and 2021 versus a statewide growth pace of 1.5 percent.

Labor force and unemployment

(Source: Employment Security Department)

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

The average unemployment rate (not seasonally adjusted) in Adams County in 2010 was 10.0 percent. In 2011 the rate dropped to 9.6 percent and in 2012 it declined eight-tenths of a percentage point further, to 8.8 percent. The lowest average unemployment rate in the County in recent years was in 2007 at 5.9 percent and the highest rate was 14.5 in 1993.

Statewide, unemployment has also decreased since 2010. The annual average unemployment rate in Washington State during 2010 was 9.9 percent. It fell seven-tenths of a percentage point to 9.2 percent in 2011 and dropped one percentage point in 2012, to 8.2 percent.

In Adams County, the unemployment rate has decreased or stabilized year-over-year in 28 of the past 29 months (from July 2011 through November 2013). This November the not seasonally adjusted rate of 8.6 percent was exactly where it was in November 2012.

On an annual average basis, Adams County's Civilian Labor Force (CLF) grew 2.9 percent in 2012 to 8,580 residents, a good economic indicator following a 2.3 percent labor force contraction in 2011. However, Adams County's Civilian Labor Force (CLF) has decreased for the last ten months (from February through November 2013). Even Washington's labor force has not been faring particularly well recently. It stagnated or declined year-over-year in 13 of the past 16 months (August 2012 through November 2013).

In Adams County, between the Novembers of 2012 and 2013 the labor force contracted from 8,080 to 7,930 residents, a 150 resident and 1.9 percent decline. Simultaneously, fewer residents were unemployed in November 2013 versus the same month in 2012 (690 residents were unemployed in November 2012 versus 680 in November 2013). Thus, although the County’s labor force shrank between the Novembers of 2012 and 2013 the number of unemployed also decreased and the Adams County unemployment rate stabilized at 8.6 percent.


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 may also be 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. Covered employment and wage trends over the last six years (from 2007 through 2012) 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 2012, QCEW data showed that Adams County’s labor market provided 7,198 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 since these five sectors comprise roughly 75 percent of all jobs in the local economy. Nearly one quarter of covered employment was agricultural.
  • In 2012, approximately $249.5 million of wage income was paid countywide. Agricultural employers provided 20.9 percent of it, or $52.1 million. Local government was a close second accounting for 20.5 percent or $51.2 million. Agriculture and local government combined provided four out of every ten dollars of wages earned in Adams County during 2012.
  • Between 2007 and 2012, the industry in Adams County which added the most jobs was agriculture. In 2007 agricultural provided 1,388 jobs, 20.7 percent of total covered employment. By 2012 this industry tallied 1,748 jobs and accounted for 24.3 percent of all covered employment countywide. This 360 job and 25.9 percent uptrend indicates not only is the agricultural industry key to the Adams County economy, but that its “footprint” in the local labor market has grown in the past five years.
  • Between 2007 and 2012, the industry that lost the most jobs was accommodation and food services (primarily hotels and restaurants). This sector provided 411 jobs and 6.1 percent of total covered employment in 2007. By 2012, accommodation and food services accounted for only 362 jobs or 5.0 percent of all covered employment.

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 2011 was the 55 and older age group with 22.8 percent of the workforce. They were closely followed by the 45-54 age group with 20.8 percent of the workforce.

In 2011, 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 construction (92.7 percent), transportation and warehousing (83.3 percent), utilities (78.7 percent) and wholesale trade (77.2 percent).
  • Female-dominated industries included healthcare and social assistance (79.2 percent), other services (74.9 percent), finance and insurance (73.9 percent) and educational services (70.9 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 2012 there were 7,198 jobs in Adams County covered by unemployment insurance, with a total payroll of over $249.5 million. The county annual average wage was $34,656 in 2012, well below the state’s average annual wage of $51,964. In 2012, Adams County was ranked 24th (out of 39 counties) in the state for average annual wages.

The Adams County median hourly wage was $15.51 in 2011, which was well below the state’s median hourly wage of $21.59.

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 was $31,704 in 2011. This figure is considerably below the state’s figure of $43,878 and the nation’s figure of $41,560. A general trend is that a growing percentage of residents’ personal income is coming from transfer payments versus earnings/wages or investments. For example:

  • In 1981, 66 percent of personal income in Adams County came from earnings, 23 percent from investments and 11 percent from transfer payments.
  • In 1991, 62 percent of personal income came from earnings, 21 percent from investments and 16 percent from transfer payments.
  • In 2001, 55 percent of personal income came from earnings, 23 percent from investments and 22 percent from transfer payments.
  • In 2011, 59 percent of personal income came from earnings, 19 percent from investments and 22 percent from transfer payments.

According to U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts, the median household income was $41,798, which is significantly below the state’s at $59,374 over the period 2008 to 2012.

In the period 2008 to 2012, 23.1 percent of the county’s population was living below poverty level, which is much higher than 12.9 percent for Washington state and 14.9 percent for the nation, according to U.S.Census Bureau QuickFacts.



(Source: U.S. Census Bureau)

Adams County’s population was 19,005 in 2012. From April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2012 the county grew 1.5 percent, a little less robust that Washington state’s 2.5 percent growth rate.

The largest city in Adams County is Othello with an estimated population of 7,565 in 2013. 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 2012 19,005 6,895,318
Population 2010 18,728 6,724,543
Percent change, 2010 to 2012 1.5% 2.5%

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 2012.

  • Adams County’s population age 65 and older was 10.2 percent in 2012 compared to the state’s 13.2 percent.
  • The largest age group, those under 18 years of age, was 35.2 percent in 2012 compared to the state’s 23.0 percent.
  • The youngest age group, those under 5 years of age, was 11.0 percent in 2012 compared to the state’s 6.4 percent.

Females’ made up 49 percent of the population in Adams County, which is slightly below the state’s 50.1 percent.

Within Adams County, there is less racial diversity than the state, but the county has a higher percentage of persons of Hispanic or Latino origin, 61.0 percent, compared to the state’s 11.7 percent. White persons who are not of Hispanic descent made up 36.8 percent of the county’s population compared to 71.6 percent of the state’s population.


(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Adams County Washington state
Population by age, 2012
Under 5 years old 11.0% 6.4%
Under 18 years old 35.2% 23.0%
65 years and older 10.2% 13.2%
Females, 2012 49.0% 50.1%
Race/ethnicity, 2012
White 92.1% 81.6%
Black 1.2% 3.9%
American Indian, Alaskan Native 4.1% 1.8%
Asian, Native Hawaiian, Other Pacific Islander 1.2% 8.4%
Hispanic or Latino, any race 61.0% 11.7%

Educational attainment

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Over the period 2008 to 2012, 67.4 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 (85.7 percent).

Over the same period, 12.3 percent of Adams County residents 25 and older have a bachelor’s degree or higher compared with the state (31.6 percent) and nation (28.5 percent).