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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 industry and other research and development jobs. Agriculture remains a large revenue producer for 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 is 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. In the 1890s, the Yakima Irrigation and Improvement Company built the first irrigation canals. With irrigation, railroad service 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, creating skilled engineering and science 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 the production of chemicals, fertilizer and zirconium tubing and titanium, along with supporting storage and distribution centers.

Growth and prosperity have continued with population and development centering in Kennewick, Richland and Prosser. Recreational industry 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



Local population growth continues to drive demand for more educational services as well as healthcare. The slowdown seen in education and healthcare industries can largely be attributed to the national, state and local budget cuts and re-allocations.

The good news is that the housing market here is stable with growing housing inventories and affordable prices. The national and state housing sectors are expanding and growing, which is expected to drive economic growth even in the local area as consumer confidence in buying and selling homes increases. According to Washington state nonfarm projections, the Tri-Cities (which include both Benton and Franklin Counties) are expected to be the fastest growing area in the state through 2022 at 1.3 percent a year, but it will be 1.2 percent points below that of the 2000 to 2010 period.

Manufacturing and construction sectors are expected to have an annual growth at 1.0 percent and 1.4 percent through 2022. In response to growth in manufacturing and agriculture, wholesale trade along with transportation and warehousing industries are expected to expand as well at the rate of 1.1 and 0.7 percent a year, respectively. Also, education and healthcare industries are expected to grow the fastest at 2.5 percent a year through 2012.

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.


Labor force and unemployment

(Source: Employment Security Department)

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

In 2013, the county labor force was estimated to be 92,480. The Benton County unemployment rate was 8.3 percent in 2013 which is 0.5 percent lower than in 2012.

For the Kennewick-Pasco-Richland Metropolitan Statistical Area (that contains both Benton and Franklin counties), the July 2014 preliminary unemployment rate was 5.7 percent, down by 2.4 percent from the 8.1 percent rate in July 2013.

Preliminary July 2014 estimates for the combined counties show that the total civilian labor force was up by 1.2 percent, from 131,030 in July 2014 to 132,600 in July 2014. The number of employed residents was 125,100 in July 2014, up by 3.9 percent from 120,430 in July 2013. At the same time the number of unemployed workers decreased by 29.2 percent from 10,600 in July 2013 to 7,500 in July 2014.


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 78,371 in 2013, down by 0.5 percent or 368 jobs since 2012. Average annual wages for covered employment in Benton County were $49,121 in 2013, an increase of 0.5 percent from the 2012 average of $48,891.

In 2013, according to the BLS’ Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, there were 5,665 total establishments in the county, an increase of 5.0 percent, or 268 new establishments, over the year.

Goods-producing industries, which include natural resources, mining, construction and manufacturing, decreased in employment from 2012 to 2013 by 0.9 percent, or by 121 jobs. Average monthly employment in 2013 was 13,814 workers and annual wages totaled $576.5 million, which translates in to $41,736 average annual wages for goods-producing workers. Average annual wage increased by 4.2 percent when compared to 2012 average wage of $40,057.

  • The manufacturing industry lost employment over the year, declining by 1.6 percent. The averaged employment was at 4,113 jobs in 2013, with average annual pay of $52,852. Manufacturing represented 5.2 percent of total covered employment in Benton County.
  • Construction accounted for 5.3 percent of the total average annual employment in the county with 4,157 jobs in 531 establishments.
    • The average annual wage in construction was $55,186 in 2013, up by 4.8 percent from year before.
    • For the first time in five years employment in construction increased by 0.8 percent, which is great improvement over 3.2 percent decreases a year for the previous five years.
  • Agriculture is one of the base industries in the area, representing 7.1 percent of total employment. It is, however, highly seasonal and volatile from year to year.
    • Average annual employment in agriculture in 2013 was 5,547, down by 1.6 percent from 2012. Nonetheless, agriculture has shown a 2.8 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. The average annual wage increased by 4.8 percent over the year.
    • Crop production represents 79.1 percent of total agriculture, which is largely in non-citrus fruit farming, including apple orchards, grape vineyards and other produce.
    • Support activities shared 20.9 percent of employment, which includes post-harvest crop activity.

Service-providing industries comprise the major share (82.2 percent) of the county’s economy. There was an average of 64,436 jobs in 4,701 establishments, which paid an average annual wage of $50,701 in 2013. Over the year, service-providing industries increased by 6.1 percent, or by 269 jobs.

  • The wholesale trade industry was the fastest growing industry with a 12.7 percent increase over the year. Wholesale trade makes up 1.5 percent of total employment. The average annual wage in this industry was at $48,448 in 2013.
  • The finance and insurance industry sector was the second fastest growing industry in 2013 with a 7.6 percent change over the year. There were 155 establishments in the finance and insurance industry, which provided on average 1,887 jobs. Average annual wages for this industry were at $56,132, which makes it one of the top paying industries in the area.
  • The administrative and waste services sector in Benton County lost employment with an over-the-year decline of 2.2 percent, or 212 jobs. Most of the losses from this industry are coming from Hanford related cluster. This cluster has 11.8 percent share of total employment.
    • Average employment in this sector was 9,270 in 256 establishments, with average annual wages of $72,053.
    • 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 11.8 percent share of total employment.
    • This industry had an average annual employment of 9,286 in 424 establishments, with the highest average annual wage of $87,574 in 2013.
    • Over the year, this industry contracted by 8.9 percent as the result of federal budget negotiations and project completion.
  • Retail trade is the third largest employing industry in Benton County, representing 11.1 percent of total employment.
    • In 2013, this industry had an average of 8,695 jobs in 434 establishments and paid an average annual wage of $26,047.
  • Healthcare and social assistance employment in the private sector was 8,406 jobs, which represented about 10.7 percent of total employment in 2013, increasing 3.1 percent from 2012.
    • This industry is one of the fastest growing private industries in Benton County with a five-year average annual growth rate of 3.2 percent since 2008.
    • The average annual wage in this industry was $44,934, in 444 establishments.

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 2012, the largest share of employment was held by 25 to 34 year-olds at 22.7 percent, which is close to the state’s figure of 22.5 percent. The age group of 45 to 54 year-olds had a 21.9 percent share of employment, followed by those 55 years and older at 17.1 percent.

  • The county’s employment showed male workers at 51.7 percent and females at 48.3 percent.
    • Male-dominated industries included construction (83.4 percent), utilities (76.3 percent), wholesale trade (74.4 percent), transportation and warehousing (75.1 percent) and administrative and waste management (69.3 percent).
    • Female-dominated industries included healthcare and social assistance (82.0 percent), finance and insurance (71.8 percent) and educational services (72.7 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 78,371 jobs in Benton County covered by unemployment insurance, with a total payroll of over $3.8 billion.

The average annual wage was $49,121, well above the state’s average annual wage of $39,728.The median hourly wage in 2012 was $21.64, same as the state’s median hourly wage of $21.64.

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 2012, Benton County’s per capita personal income was $40,375, less than the state ($46,046) and the nation ($43,735).

According to the U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts, the median household income was $57,774 in 2012. The county’s median was slightly more than that of the state ($57,573) and of the nation ($51,371) during the same period.

Benton County’s poverty rate of 13.4 percent is below the Washington state’s rate of 13.5 percent and the nation’s rate of 15.9 percent in 2012, according to U.S Census Bureau QuickFacts.



(Source: U.S. Census Bureau)

In 2013, Benton County’s population was 184,486 with a 5.3 percent growth from 2010 to 2013 compared to the state’s growth rate of 3.7 percent.

The largest city in Benton County is Kennewick with a population of 76,762 in 2013.

Population facts

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Benton County Washington state
Population 2013 184,486 6,971,406
Population 2010 175,177 6,724,540
Percent change, 2010 to 2013 5.3% 3.7%

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 group in 2013 was those under 18 years of age (26.9 percent) compared to the state (22.9 percent).
  • Residents under 5 years old made up 7.3 percent of the total population compared to 6.4 percent in the state in 2013.
  • In 2013, Benton County’s population 65 years and older made up 12.9 percent of the total compared to 13.6 percent of the state’s population.

The gender split in the county was 49.9 percent female compared to 50.0 percent in the state in 2013.

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 19.9 percent of the population compared with 11.9 percent in the state.


(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Benton County Washington state
Population by age, 2013
Under 5 years old 7.3% 6.4%
Under 18 years old 26.9% 22.9%
65 years and older 12.9% 13.6%
Females, 2013 49.9% 50.0%
Race/ethnicity, 2013
White 91.2% 81.2%
Black 1.6% 4.0%
American Indian, Alaskan Native 1.2% 1.9%
Asian, Native Hawaiian, Other Pacific Islander 3.1% 8.6%
Hispanic or Latino, any race 19.9% 11.9%

Educational attainment

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

About 88.9 percent of Benton County’s population 25 years and older were high school graduates over the period of 2008 to 2012. This graduation rate compares to that of the state’s rate of 90.0 percent.

Those holding a bachelor’s degree or higher made up 28.6 percent of Benton County residents age 25 and older compared to 31.6 percent of state residents.