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Benton County Profile

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


Regional context

Benton County, named after Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton, was created from eastern Yakima and Klickitat counties in 1905. The county is located in southeastern Washington at the confluence of the Columbia, Snake and Yakima rivers. The Columbia River defines the north, south and east boundaries, making the county part of the semi-arid river basin in the rain shadow of the Cascade, Blue, Wallowa and Rocky mountains. Ranching and dry-land farming made up the bulk of its economy in the 1800s. Today, it is the ninth most densely populated county in the state with 103 persons per square mile due to its nuclear-related and other research and development industries. Agriculture is still a large producer in the area.

Local economy

Deer and elk, along with fishing, seeds, roots and berries provided food for the indigenous people in the area even though there was little rainfall. Migrations of white settlers into the area in the 19th century disrupted this tribal world and the Indian Wars of the 1850s resulted in tribes being moved to reservations.

The gold rush of 1858 in British Columbia brought the first large group of whites through the area. By the 1870s, cattle and horse ranchers occupied the majority of land in the area. In the 1880s, major settlements along the Columbia River were connected by steamboats and railroads, allowing farmers and ranchers to get products to market. Farming included corn, wheat, alfalfa, potatoes and fruit, especially apples. Many farmers were successful in dry-land farming. However in the 1890s, the Yakima Irrigation and Improvement Company built the first irrigation canals. With irrigation, railroad and electricity development, there were accompanying expansions of orchards, vineyards, farming and ranching.

World War II brought the Hanford Project into the county to develop the plutonium used in the first nuclear bomb. Continued federal investment has led to scientific diversification and nuclear and chemical cleanup, with skilled engineers and scientists following the jobs. In the late 1980s, Washington State University expanded into the area, offering advanced degrees. The well-educated, trained workforce has made many contributions in agricultural production, processing and research. Over time, the county has attracted a variety of manufacturers, including production of chemicals, fertilizer and zirconium tubing and titanium, along with supporting storage and distribution centers.

Growth and prosperity have continued with population growth and development centering in Kennewick, Richland and Prosser. Recreational industries and tourist attractions are developing along with the popularity of the wine industry. The economy is tied to agriculture, food processing, medical equipment manufacturing, energy production, nuclear-fuel fabrication, wine production and wine tourism.


Geographic facts

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Benton County Rank in state
Land area, 2010 (square miles) 1,700,38 22
Persons per square mile, 2010 103 9



The Benton County economic picture looks quiet promising. Recovery of local jobs following the Hanford Nuclear Reservation 2011 layoffs is well underway. It has taken two years to start recovering lost jobs in the county, with 1,695 new jobs added. Industry growth in 2014 occurred in agriculture, construction, manufacturing, educational services, healthcare, accommodation and food services and government. Local population growth continues to drive demand for more educational services as well as healthcare.

As the economy becomes more stable and moves forward with new markets, new products and technology in research and development, manufacturing and wine production and utilization are expected to play a big role in Benton County’s future prosperity. Education and healthcare is marching forward with growth to accommodate ever growing demand at the local and regional level.


Labor force and unemployment

(Source: Employment Security Department)

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

In 2014, the county labor force was estimated at 89,900 and the Benton County unemployment rate was at 7.7 percent, which was 0.7 percent lower than in 2013. Total resident employment decreased by 2.0 percent or 1,660 over the year, while resident unemployment decreased by 10.8 percent or 830 individuals.

In the most recent numbers released for August 2015, the unemployment rate was 6.0 percent, which is 1.2 percent less than that in August 2014. The resident labor force was 90,055, employment was 84,633 and unemployment was 5,422.


Industry employment

(Source: Employment Security Department)

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

Total covered employment in Benton County was 80,066 in 2014, an increase of 2.2 percent or 1,695 jobs since 2013. The average annual wage for covered employment in Benton County was $49,799 in 2014, an increase of 1.4 percent from the average annual wage of $49,121 in 2013. In 2014, according to the BLS’ Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, there were 5,488 total establishments in the county.

Goods-producing industries, which include natural resources, mining, construction and manufacturing, decreased in employment from 2013 to 2014 by 3.7 percent, or 518 jobs. Average monthly employment in 2014 was 14,332 workers and annual wages totaled $594.2 million, which translates to a $41,455 average annual wage for goods-producing workers.

  • The manufacturing industry gained employment over the year, growing by 3.2 percent. The averaged employment was at 4,218 jobs in 2014, with average annual pay of $51,165. Manufacturing represented 5.3 percent of total covered employment in Benton County.
  • Construction accounted for 5.3 percent of the total average annual employment in the county with 4,218 jobs.
    • The average annual wage in construction was $55,544 in 2014 up by 0.6 percent from year before.
    • Construction employment in the county increased for the second year in a row, with a 1.5 percent change over the year. Construction employment is recovering after the 2012 decline due to large layoffs from Hanford Nuclear Reservation.
  • Agriculture is one of the base industries in the area, representing 7.3 percent of total employment. It is, however, highly seasonal and volatile from year to year.
    • Average annual employment in agriculture in 2014 was 5,870, up by 5.8 percent from 2013. Nonetheless, agriculture has shown a 3.7 percent average annual growth rate over the past five years.
    • The average annual wage in agriculture was $23,421, mainly due to the seasonality of agricultural activities. Average annual wage has increased by 3.8 percent over the year.
    • Crop production represents 78.5 percent of total agriculture, which is largely in non-citrus fruit farming, including apple orchards, grape vineyards and other produce.
    • Support activities shared 20.4 percent of employment, which includes post-harvest crop activity.

Service-providing industries are a major share (82.1 percent) of the county’s economy. There was an average of 65,734 jobs, with increase of 1.8 percent, or by 1,177 jobs. Service-providing industries paid an average annual wage of $51,619 in 2014, up by 1.8 percent over the year.

  • The real estate industry increased by 9.9 percent over the year, moving right along with local housing demand and construction activities. Employment in this industry was at 1,047 in 2014, with average annual wage of $24,394.
  • The wholesale trade industry employed 1,204 in 2014 and makes up 1.5 percent of total employment. Average annual wage in this industry was at $51,300 in 2014.
  • The finance and insurance industry sector provided on average 1,887 jobs for the workforce. Average annual wage for this industry was at $56,994, which makes it one of the top paying industries in the area.
  • The administrative and support and waste management and remediation industry sector in Benton County represented 11.3 percent of total employment.
    • Average employment in this sector was 9,391 in 2014, with average annual wages of $74,476.
    • The primary employing industry is waste management and remediation services.
  • The professional, scientific and technical services industry is the largest private industry in Benton County with an 11.7 percent share of total employment.
    • This industry had an average annual employment of 9,391, with the highest average annual wage of $89,648 in 2014.
    • Over the year, this industry increased by 1.1 percent.
  • Retail trade is the third largest employing industry in Benton County, representing 11.2 percent of total employment.
    • In 2014, this industry had an average of 8,993 jobs and paid an average annual wage of $26,366.
  • Healthcare and social assistance employment in the private sector was 10,232 jobs, which represented about 12.8 percent of total employment in 2014 and the second largest industry cluster in the county
    • The average annual wage in this industry was $41,648.

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 2014, the largest share of employment was held by 25 to 34 year-olds at 21.7 percent, which is close to the state’s figure of 21.8 percent. The age group of 45 to 54 year-olds had a 21.5 percent share of employment, followed by those 35 to 44 years-old at 20.9 percent.

  • The county’s employment showed male workers at 51.1 percent and females at 48.9 percent.
    • Male-dominated industries included construction (81.2 percent), utilities (76.1 percent), wholesale trade (75.1 percent), transportation and warehousing (74.2 percent) and administrative and waste management (69.3 percent).
    • Female-dominated industries included healthcare and social assistance (80.4 percent), educational services (72.6 percent), finance and insurance (69.3 percent) and accommodation and food services (55.8 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 2014, there were 80,066 jobs in Benton County covered by unemployment insurance, with a total payroll of over $4.0 billion.

The average annual wage was $49,799 in 2014 for Benton County while for the state was at $55,003 and third highest in the state. The median hourly wage in 2013 was $21.16, below the state’s median hourly wage of $22.09.

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 2013, Benton County’s personal income totaled at $7.7 million and per capita personal income was $41,746, less than the state ($47,717) and the nation ($44,765).

According to the U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts, the median household income was $60,485 in 2009-2013. The county’s median was slightly more than that of the state ($59,478) during the same period.

Benton County’s poverty rate of 12.8 percent is below Washington state’s rate of 13.4 percent and the nation’s rate of 15.4 percent in 2013, according to U.S Census Bureau QuickFacts.



(Source: U.S. Census Bureau)

In 2014, Benton County’s population was 186,486 with a 6.5 percent growth from 2010 to 2014 compared to the state’s growth rate of 5.0 percent over the same time period.

The largest city in Benton County is Kennewick with a population of 77,700 in 2014.

Population facts

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Benton County Washington state
Population 2014 186,486 7,061,530
Population 2010 175,177 6,724,540
Percent change, 2010 to 2014 6.5% 5.0%

Age, gender and ethnicity

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Benton County has a younger population than does the state.

  • Benton County’s largest population was under 18 years of age (26.7 percent) compared to the state (22.7 percent) in 2014.
  • Residents under the age of 5 years old made up 7.2 percent of the total population compared to 6.3 percent in the state in 2014.
  • In 2014, Benton County’s population 65 years and older made up 13.4 percent of the total compared to 14.1 percent of the state’s population.

The gender split in the county was 49.8 percent female compared to 50.0 percent in the state in 2014.

Benton County is not as racially or ethnically diverse as the state except in its Hispanic or Latino residents, who can be any race. Hispanics or Latinos were 20.4 percent of the population compared with 12.2 percent in the state.


(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Benton County Washington state
Population by age, 2014
Under 5 years old 7.2% 6.3%
Under 18 years old 26.7% 22.7%
65 years and older 13.4% 14.1%
Females, 2014 49.8% 50.0%
Race/ethnicity, 2014
White 91.0% 80.7%
Black 1.6% 4.1%
American Indian, Alaskan Native 1.3% 1.9%
Asian, Native Hawaiian, Other Pacific Islander 3.2% 8.9%
Hispanic or Latino, any race 20.4% 12.2%

Educational attainment

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

About 88.7 percent of Benton County’s population 25 years and older were high school graduates in 2014. This graduation rate compares to that of the state’s rate of 90.2 percent.

Those holding a bachelor’s degree or higher made up 29.2 percent of Benton County residents age 25 and older compared to 32.3 percent of state residents.