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Clark County Profile

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

Overview

Regional context


Clark County is located in southwest Washington on the Columbia River, roughly 100 miles upstream from the Pacific Ocean. It is the fifth most populous county in the state. 

Clark County is part of the Portland Metropolitan Area. Its economy can be understood only in that context: one-third of the county’s labor force, over 50,000 workers, commutes to Portland on a daily basis, while only 11,000 commute in the opposite direction. The lack of a sales tax in Oregon has led to significant leakage of retail sales, lowering both retail investment and tax revenues for local governments. Clark County has excellent transportation linkages, including proximity to Portland International Airport, location on east-west and north-south rail lines and immediate access to Interstate 5 north-south and Interstate 84 heading east.

Local economy

Clark County, when originally occupied by white settlers, was primarily an agricultural and timber economy. In fact, the first apple tree in the state is still standing there.

The Camas paper mill was started in the 1870s. The cheap power from damming the Columbia helped spur industrialization, including an aluminum smelter built in the late 1930s that closed in 2001 following the Enron energy price manipulation.

In the 1970s, the county began to attract investment in electronics, which became its most important industry in the 1990s and remains so today, despite the loss of one-third of its employment base in the 2001 recession. Wafertech, Hewlett Packard, SEH America and Linear Semiconductor are important employers.

Employment grew rapidly in all sectors during the 1990s, but slowed after the 2001 recession. Construction and homebuilding remained strong until the housing bubble burst in 2006-07. The county lost 7 percent of its employment base in the downturn, worse than Washington state or the U.S., but job growth accelerated in 2012-13 to the point where the county was on track to recover its job loss ahead of either the state or nation.

Major industry sectors in Clark County include healthcare and social assistance (18,100 jobs in 2013), retail trade (15,900 jobs), leisure and hospitality (13,100 jobs) and manufacturing (13,000 jobs). In addition, government employed 23,500, half of which were in public education.

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Geographic facts

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Clark County Rank in state
Land area, 2013 (square miles) 629 35
Persons per square mile, 2013 692 2

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Outlook

In 2013, Clark County’s labor market was unquestionably improving, but still in a deep hole. That improvement will likely continue well into 2014. At the end of 2013, most sectors were adding jobs. This kind of broad-based growth will likely characterize 2014 as well. Also, more high-wage jobs in the financial sector are likely when Fisher Investments complete its new office building in June. Some job growth in 2014 will look good on paper but won’t represent real growth because the jobs are shifting from the Portland metro area. One example is Integra, which is slated to shift about 700 telecom jobs across the river to Clark County in 2014. In any case, it will still likely be a number of years before the county approaches anything like full employment.

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Labor force and unemployment

(Source: Employment Security Department)

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

Clark County’s unemployment rate was below the state and national averages throughout the 1990s, but above both since 2000. The financial meltdown and subsequent recession widened the gap to four percentage points in 2010. Unemployment was exacerbated by higher than average job losses for Clark County residents working in Portland. Unemployment has dropped since then due to job growth, but remains higher than average, with a preliminary average of 9.4 percent in 2013. Estimates of the county labor force and employed residents should be used with caution, since their trend is significantly different—much weaker growth—than nonfarm employment, a more trustworthy data series with a much larger sample.

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Industry employment

(Source: Employment Security Department)

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

Over the past 20 years, Clark County nonfarm employment has grown more than twice as fast as the nation’s and much faster than the state’s. The 2009 recession brought things to a halt. Employment fell by 7 percent, more than the United States and Washington state and the early stages of the recovery went slower in the county, increasing the gap. However, in mid-2011 hiring accelerated and by the end of 2013 the county had outpaced both state and nation. Some detail:

  • Construction employment in the county fell by 4,400 jobs (-35 percent) in the downturn. At the end of 2013, only 1,400 of these jobs had come back. The housing market had perked up a bit: in 2013, about 1,500 permits were issued for single-family homes, many more than the 700 issued in 2009 but well below the average of 3,200 for 1992-2005. Multi-family housing had its biggest year since 1997, with permits for over 1,000 units issued.
  • Manufacturing lost 2,700 jobs (-19 percent), but had better luck than construction, with 1,700 coming back. Fabricated metals, other durable goods (which includes primary metals), food processing and other nondurable goods have all surpassed their pre-recession levels of employment, while paper products has continued to cut jobs.
  • Wholesale trade employment dropped by 10 percent (-500 jobs) before roaring back with 900 jobs in the recovery, for a net gain of 400 jobs, as Clark County continues to develop as a distribution center.
  • Employment in retail trade declined by 1,200 jobs (-7 percent), as taxable retail sales dropped by 20 percent from the pre-recession peak. Both employment and sales began to recover in 2011 and by the end of 2013, all job loss had been recouped. Taxable sales were still 6 percent below peak in the third quarter of 2013.
  • Transportation & warehousing fell by 4 percent in the downturn and slid another 2 percent since then. The total loss was 270 jobs.
  • Like transportation, information services continued to lose jobs when other industries had begun to hire. Unlike transportation, it hit bottom at the end of 2012 and recovered all of its losses in 2013.
  • Finance & insurance shed 600 jobs in 2007 through 2008 (-13 percent). Hiring resumed in 2012 and by the end of 2013, the industry had just about broken even.
  • It was a different matter with real estate, rental & leasing, which was hit not only by the downturn in real estate, but the decline of video rental stores. Employment declined by 500 jobs (-19 percent) from its 2007 high, with a 200-job gain since 2010.
  • Professional services lost almost 300 jobs on the way down (-4 percent), but has grown by over 500 jobs on the way back. Computer systems design expanded continuously, adding 500 jobs since 2007.
  • Clark County received a big shot in the arm when PeaceHealth moved its headquarters to Vancouver after purchasing the Southwest Medical Center. Partly as a result, employment in corporate offices rose by 800 jobs since 2008. Some of that increase was due to employment being reclassified from health care to corporate office administration.
  • Business services employed 7,100 in early 2008 when the recession-related layoffs began in earnest. The industry lost 1,000 of those jobs in a year’s time, before working its way back over the following four years. Most of the loss came in temporary staffing services, which remained 500 jobs below its 2006 peak at the end of 2013.
  • Private educational services was one of the few sectors that grew through the recession, gaining 300 jobs (+22 percent).
  • Healthcare and social assistance added 1,000 jobs (5 percent) during the downturn, though the annual growth rate slowed. The recovery brought another 900 jobs to this sector .
  • Leisure & hospitality was close to the county average for all industries: a sizable loss (-1,100 jobs, -8 percent) with a rally beginning in 2011 that restored all but 100 of those jobs. There was some shifting within this sector, however. Full-service restaurants employed 300 fewer and limited-service restaurant 200 more, than before the recession. By 2013, taxable sales at both restaurants and lodging exceeded their pre-downturn levels .
  • Public sector payrolls continued to rise in the early part of the recession, growing by 900 jobs, mostly in public education, before peaking in 2009. Cuts of the same amount followed over the next three years and only 200 jobs have come back since 2011. By the end of 2013, federal employment was 300 jobs higher than in 2008; state government was just about even; public K-12 education was up 100 jobs and other local governments were still short by 400 jobs .

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, 13.1 percent of the jobs in Clark County were held by workers under the age of 25, while 20.0 percent of jobs were held by those aged 55 and over. The rest of the jobs were evenly split among those aged 25 to 34, 35 to 44 and 45 to 54 with each about 22 percent of the total. The county’s age profile closely matches that of the state.

Jobs were almost evenly divided between men (47.7 percent) and women (52.3 percent) in 2012. There were substantial differences in gender dominance by industry.

  • Male-dominated industries included construction (83.5 percent), manufacturing (72.5 percent) and wholesale trade (69.4 percent).
  • Female-dominated industries included healthcare and social assistance (81.2 percent), educational services (public and private combined, 74.0 percent) and finance and insurance (62.4 percent).

The recession affected men much more than women in Clark County. After adjustment for population growth, male employment fell by 6.4 percent from the first-quarter 2008 to first-quarter 2013. That was more than twice the rate for women (-2.9 percent). Younger workers were also disproportionately affected. Teen employment (under the age of 19) fell by over 40 percent. Jobs held by 19 to 21 year-olds dropped by over 30 percent.

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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)

The median hourly wage for jobs in Clark County in 2012 was $19.79, almost $2 per hour below the state median. After adjustment for inflation, there has been little change in the median wage since 2002—only 1.2 percent. Meanwhile, the average wage for the top 10 percent of jobs has risen by 15.1 percent. The average wage for jobs paying below the median rose less than 1 percent, except for at the very bottom, where wages are indexed to inflation and rose by 2.5 percent.

The 2012 average annual wage was $44,445, well below the state and national averages. The average has risen almost every year for the past two decades. The stagnation of the median wage and the increase in the average wage further confirm that wages have been increasing on the upper end of the wage scale, but not in the middle and lower segments.

During the recession, there were substantially higher losses for low- and medium-wage jobs than for higher-wage jobs, as shown in the table below. For example, the number of jobs paying below $12 per hour fell by 9 percent, while the number of those paying above $30 per hour declined by 2 percent. In the first two years of the recovery, job creation was disproportionately in jobs paying below $16 per hour.

Percent change in the number of full-time-equivalent jobs by hourly wage in Clark County

(Source: Employment Security Department)

                                                                                      Hourly wage
Time span <$12.00 $12.00 - $15.99 $16.00 - $23.99 $24.00 - $29.99 $30 +
2007 - 2010 -9.0% -12.0% -8.7% -9.9% -2.1%
2010 - 2012 6.1% 6.2% 1.3% 3.7% 2.4%
2007 - 2012 -3.4% -6.6% -7.5% -6.6% -0.3%

Not surprisingly, median household income declined sharply in the recession, falling 11 percent from 2008 through 2012 – compared with 7 percent for the state and nation. The county was above the state median in 2007, but was below the state in 2012.

Clark County’s poverty rate rose from 9.3 percent in 2007 to 13.7 percent in 2011, before falling to 11.6 percent in 2012—lower than the state and nation. The poverty rate for children was higher, but followed the same pattern, going from 11.0 percent to 18.0 percent then down to 14.1 percent.

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, Clark County per capita personal income was $39,758, well below the state and nation. Per capita income fell by 6 percent in the recession, before recovering much of the loss by 2012. Investment income is still well below where it was in 2008, before the stock market plummeted, while transfer payments have risen by 20 percent. The county was above the national average in 1997, but has not kept pace and was 9 percent below in 2012. The gap is primarily due to lower average earnings and a lower amount of transfer payments.

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Population

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Office of Financial Management )

Clark County’s population was estimated at 435,500 in 2013. The county was the fastest-growing in the state in the 1990s and one of the faster ones in the 2000s until the recession hit. Growth was spurred by in-migration of new residents, but in 2010, more people moved out of the county than moved in for the first time since 1984. In-migration turned (barely) positive in 2011, but remained small in 2012 and 2013. Vancouver is the largest city in the county and the fifth largest in the state, with a population of 164,500.

Population facts

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Clark County Washington state
Population 2012 438,287 6,897,012
Population 2000 345,238 5,894,121
Percent change, 2000 to 2012 27.0% 17.0%

Age, gender and ethnicity

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

When compared with the state and nation, Clark County’s population has a greater proportion of its population under 5 years old and under 18 years old and a smaller proportion of middle older residents.

The county is much less diverse in terms of race and ethnicity, but has slowly gotten more diverse. In 2012, 81.0 percent of Clark’s population was white compared with 71.6 percent statewide. Just over 8 percent of Clark County’s population is Hispanic or Latino, versus 11.7 percent of the state.

Females in the 2012 Clark County population estimate made up 50.6 percent compared to 50.1 percent for the state.

Demographics

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Clark County Washington State
Population by age, 2012
Under 5 years old 6.6% 6.4%
Under 18 years old 25.8% 23.0%
65 years and older 12.6% 13.2%
Females, 2012 50.6% 50.1%
Race/ethnicity, 2012
White alone, not Hispanic or Latino 81.0% 71.6%
Black 2.1% 3.9%
American Indian, Alaskan Native 1.0% 1.8%
Asian, Native Hawaiian, Other Pacific Islander 5.1% 8.4%
Hispanic or Latino, any race 8.1% 11.7%

Educational attainment

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

More than a quarter (26.7 percent) of Clark County residents age 25 and older had a bachelor’s degree or higher in 2012. That was a bit lower than the nation (29.1 percent) and state (31.6 percent). Residents had a slightly higher high school graduation rate than the state, 91 compared to 90 percent.

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