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Asotin County Profile

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


Regional context

Asotin County, established in 1883, is in the farthest southeastern corner of Washington, bounded on the east by Idaho and on the south by Oregon. Garfield County makes up its western border and part of its northern border as well. The balance of its northern border is shared with Whitman County.

Before white exploration and settlement, the semi-nomadic Nez Perce inhabited what is now Asotin County. Tribes on both sides of the Nez Perce Trail used it for commerce, which was of strategic importance to the development of the region. Modern-day highways largely parallel the old trail.

The establishment of the territory and the end of the Indian Wars resulted in an influx of white settlers into the county. Asotin, a former Nez Perce village, attracted settlers who were producing cattle, fruit and vegetables for mining camps in Idaho by 1868. Most economic development in the county was linked to mining activity in Idaho.

By the 1950s, agriculture dominated Asotin County’s economy with grain crops, such as wheat and barley, as well as peas, berries, tree fruits and nuts, which were clustered near the river. The food processing industry grew up around these crops and the meat and dairy farms.

The dense stands of fir in the Blue Mountains made lumber and wood products a growth industry. Hunting and other outdoor recreation have been growth industries, too. The completion of the Lower Granite Dam in 1975 shut down orchard and beef-processing activities along the river as land was submerged, but it created the furthest inland water route in the nation. Agriculture remained important, but now shared top billing with port activity at Clarkston-Lewiston and the federal U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which operated the dam. Population growth followed the port activity at both Clarkston and Lewiston, fueling trade and service sectors catering to their needs.

Source: Historic Glimpses of Asotin County by E.V. Kuykendall, Bob Weatherley of the Asotin County American

Local economy

In 2012, overall employment grew by 1.8 percent as professional and business services and retail employment increased. In terms of jobs, the overall increase was much higher than average, however most of this growth was due to a Wal-Mart opening in Clarkston, Washington and closing down in Lewiston, Idaho. This move by a major retailer to Clarkston continues to develop the city into a regional retail hub and has a positive impact on local sales tax revenues, which increased over 20 percent compared to the previous year.

A new wind farm is being built in neighboring Garfield County, and multiple wind farms have been built during the last few years in Columbia County. With a combination of wind resources and its proximity to power infrastructure, future sites are being tested in Whitman County. It is likely that some of the workforce will come from neighboring areas like Asotin County, which has over 50% of its earned income derived from residents working outside the county.

Manufacturing employment had been declining in Clarkston, but has begun to add jobs in the area. New manufacturing facilities have been constructed and existing firms have continued to hire.

Agricultural employment also continues to play an oversized role, not in terms of total employment, but in terms of economic impact. High prices for wheat positively impacts wholesale sales employment, retail sales and the overall level of money flowing through the economy.


Geographic facts

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Asotin County Rank in state
Land area, 2010 (square miles) 636.21 34
Persons per square mile, 2010 34.0 20



In the 1990’s, the nonfarm employment growth rate for Asotin County outpaced the State and nation at 3.7 percent. From 2000 to 2010 however, the growth rate has dropped off to 1.0 percent which still remains higher than the State at 0.3 or nation at -0.1. Moreover, for the past two years through 2012, nonfarm employment in Asotin County decreased at the rate of 0.3 percent a year, while the state and the nation are increasing at 1.4 and 1.5 percent a year, respectively. Export-related manufacturing continued to be a source of very positive growth for the economy, but overall employment in this sector continues to decline. As overall economic conditions improve around the world, exports will become an area of greater strength and diversity. Some local manufacturers have made efforts to open up new export markets for their products.

Construction jobs along with financial activities are improving and are on the way to recovery. The professional and business sector is expending and it is becoming one of the major economic drivers in the area.

Agriculture employment is expected to continue its very slow job growth as wheat production becomes increasingly mechanized. For the region, wheat crop production was at levels considered very profitable, historically. With increased demand, decreased worldwide production stemming from droughts and higher than average per bushel prices, the local value of wheat harvest was above average. Commodities across most markets have continued to benefit from changing levels of global trade, demand and monetary valuation. It is likely these trends could stop as quickly as they started.

The regional economy has maintained its appeal to tourism, building that industry. Retired individuals also are drawn to the area.

Labor force and unemployment

(Source: Employment Security Department)

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

The total county labor force was estimated at 10,410 in 2012, about 1.7 percent higher than in 2011. Unemployment was lower in 2012 at 8.4 percent compared to 9.0 percent in 2011. The unemployment rate is directly impacted by neighboring Lewiston, Idaho’s larger labor markets.


Industry employment

(Source: Employment Security Department)

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

In 2012, Asotin County averaged 5,578 total covered jobs, down from 5,601 in 2011. Of these jobs, the service-providing sector dominates with over an 80.0 percent share of total covered employment. It has been the source of all job growth over the last 20 years, increasing its share as construction and manufacturing decreased their shares.

  • Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting continues to be a small component of total employment at less than 1.4 percent. Overall agricultural employment continues to remain flat with average wages at $22,608. As agricultural producers sell their products, they will have more income to spend with local retailers, based on stronger than average agricultural prices.
  • Construction employment, hit hard by the recession and housing crisis, declined annually starting in 2007 and has finally shown some growth in 2012 with a year-over-year change of 6.2 percent or 19 jobs. Construction is fifth largest industry in the County with total of 5.9 percent employment share, with an average annual wage of $43,022. For short periods of time, stimulus projects shored up construction employment, but this work has been completed and construction employment has declined to levels common in the 1990’s. It will take a rebound in the housing market for construction to fully recover, which may be several years from being realized.
  • Total employment in manufacturing has continued to decline since hitting its peak in 2007. Currently manufacturing makes up 5.0 percent of total employment with a 4.0 percent drop in share since 2007. Manufacturing pays $34,485 in average annual wages. Recent reports indicate business sales and productivity of workers are both up, but there has not been a resulting uptick in hiring activity. If sales stay in the positive zone, especially those in export -related markets, then firms will need to start hiring again.
  • Retail trade is the largest industry in the county with a 19.0 percent share of total employment. Retail employment increased in 2009 as the result of a new Wal-Mart store opening in Clarkston, Washington. The store was previously in Lewiston, Idaho. Even without this change, total retail employment had been increasing since 2002. Even though average annual wages in the retail sector tend to be lower at $28,450, they provide important employment opportunities for new entrants and re-entrants into the labor market.
  • Health care and social assistance, both private and public, have been and continue to be a key source of jobs for the county with a 17.6 percent share of total employment. The health care and social assistance industry provided 980 jobs that paid on average $36,431 per year in 2012. Ambulatory health care services, hospitals and nursing and residential facilities all have more employment than is typical for an area this size, which is a reflection of the Clarkston region being part of the Lewiston, ID Metropolitan Statistical Area.
  • Accommodation and food services jobs have grown slightly over the last three years, with a 10.9 percent share of total employment in 2012 and average annual wages of $15,376. As business and the economy improve after the recession, accommodation and food services are increasing employment. Over the year however, from 2011 to 2012 this industry declined by 7 jobs.
  • Professional and technical services employment has trended upward since 2008, with an average annual growth rate of 1.7 percent. This industry employs around 217 workers with an average annual wage of $27,280. The gains are coming from an assortment of business types that support health care, construction and engineering services.
  • Education makes up 10.7 percent of total employment in the area and it includes both private and public education. On average 600 jobs are provided in education yearly, with an average annual wage of $33,803.
  • Government administration makes up 7.0 percent of total employment in the area.

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:

In the 2011, men held 42.9 percent of the jobs in Asotin County and women held 57.1 percent.

  • Workers over the age of 55 years of age hold 20.5 percent of all employment, which is same as the State number of 20.5 percent.
  • Workers between the ages of 25 and 34 hold 21.5 percent of all employment.
  • Male-dominated industries included manufacturing (82.2 percent); construction (86.4 percent); wholesale trade (80.3 percent); transportation and warehousing (86.6 percent).
  • Female-dominated industries included finance and insurance (68.2 percent); health care and social assistance (83.7 percent); education services (71.6 percent), and professional, scientific and technical services (80.3 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, employers in Asotin County paid almost $174.7 million in wages, which increased from $166.3 million in 2011.
  • The average annual wage for jobs in the county was $31,314 in 2012 and $29,694 in 2011. The county’s wages have lagged those for the state since the 1990s.
  • The 2011 median hourly wage for Asotin was $15.27, below the State figure of $21.59 and the State figure minus King County of $19.20.
  • Among major industries, wages were highest in information, wholesale trade, finance and insurance, construction, manufacturing, healthcare and government.
  • Accommodation and food services, arts and entertainment, agriculture and other services had the lowest average wages.
  • Median household income in 2007-2011 was $41,993. This is much lower than the state average of $58,890.
  • Workers living in Asotin County earn a large portion of their income outside of the county. In 2011 workers earned over 52 percent of their total wages outside of the county.

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.

  • Per capita income in Asotin was $35,230 in 2011, which is 84.8 percent of the U.S. average ($41,560) and 80.3 percent of the State average ($43,878).
  • Per capita income rose slightly during the last three years, with average growth of 0.7 percent.
  • Investment income was 20 percent of total income in 2011.
  • Government transfer payments, as a proportion of total income, have risen steadily from 12 percent in 1969 to 28 percent in 2011.
  • The poverty rate for Asotin County in 2007 to 2011 was 14.6 percent and has not changed much since 2000. About one out of every five residents under the age of 18 lives in poverty, somewhat higher than in the state as a whole.


(Source: U.S. Census Bureau)

According to the 2012 Census estimates, the population in Asotin County was 21,888. Since 2010, the county’s population has increased 1.2 percent, much slower than typical for the State.

  • Asotin County is not a densely populated area. It has a population per square mile density of 34.0 people. The state average is 101.2 people per square mile.
  • Total population has been impacted more by net in-migration than natural increase.

Population facts

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Asotin County Washington state
Population 2012 21,888 6,897,012
Population 2000 20,551 5,894,121
Percent change, 2000 to 2012 6.5% 17.0%

Age, gender and ethnicity

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

  • Asotin has 21.1 percent of its population under 18 years of age, compared to 23.0 percent statewide.
  • The population is 20.0 percent over 65 years of age, compared with 13.2 percent statewide.
  • Has a greater proportion of females at 51.9 percent compared to 50.1 percent statewide.
  • Is less diverse than the state in terms of race and in 2012, 92.0 percent of Asotin residents were white and non-Latino, compared with 71.6 percent statewide.
  • 3.4 percent of residents are Hispanic or Latino, compared to 11.7 percent statewide.


(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Asotin County Washington state
Population by age, 2012    
Under 5 years old 5.6% 6.4%
Under 18 years old 21.1% 23.0%
65 years and older 20.0% 13.2%
Females, 2012 51.9% 50.1%
Race/ethnicity, 2012
White 94.9% 81.6%
Black 0.5% 3.9%
American Indian, Alaskan Native 1.5% 1.8%
Asian, Native Hawaiian, Other Pacific Islander 0.9% 8.4%
Hispanic or Latino, any race 3.4% 11.7%

Educational attainment

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

  • Asotin County residents over the age of 25 had similar high school graduation rates, 88.7 percent, compared to their statewide counterparts at 89.8 percent, 2007-2011.
  • An estimated 15.9 percent of those over 25 have a Bachelor’s Degree or higher, compared to 31.4 percent statewide.