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Island County Profile

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


Regional context

Island County, in northwest Washington, is made up of two large islands, Whidbey and Camano and several much smaller islands. Island County is the second smallest county in Washington by landmass, just larger than neighboring San Juan County. Island County is located to the west of Skagit and Snohomish counties.

The largest employer is the U.S. Naval Air Station in Oak Harbor (Naval Air Station Whidbey Island or NASWI). Oak Harbor is the largest city in the county with a population of 22,080 in 2013.

Local economy

Settlement by non-indigenous people began in the 1850s. Agriculture began with wheat, oats, potatoes and sheep ranching. Logging began with the oak and fir trees that were used for ship decking and ship masts, respectively.

In 1941, the U.S. Navy started construction on an airbase, which transformed Oak Harbor into a booming community due to the creation of construction jobs and influx of Navy personnel. NASWI remains a strong economic stabilizing force in Whidbey Island. NASWI has also brought many highly skilled workers to Whidbey Island. There is not a strong economic base to provide sufficient employment for the spouses and dependents of those workers, so commuting to nearby counties provides a relief valve for residents seeking jobs.

Nonfarm and covered employment estimates do not include military employment figures. However, given that Island County’s largest employer is the military, the success of other industries is highly dependent on the employment situation at the naval air base.

Total nonfarm employment averaged 15,260 in 2012. Nearly 30 percent of all jobs in Island County were government jobs—especially local government. For the most part, local government jobs tend to be related to K-12 education. Retail trade accounted for nearly 14 percent of Island County employment. Goods producing industries, which are predominantly construction and manufacturing, made up only 9 percent of all non-military-related jobs in Island County.


Geographic facts

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Island County Rank in state
Land area, 2013 (square miles) 208.45 38
Persons per square mile, 2013 382.35 5



Island County’s employment situation began to slow down in 2007, slightly faster than either Washington state or the U.S. Every year from 2008 to 2011, Island County shed proportionally more jobs than either the state or the nation and did not begin to see employment gains until 2012, after the state and the nation had already begun to improve. From peak to trough, Island County lost 1,500 nonfarm jobs or 9 percent of the workforce. For comparison, Washington state and the U.S. each lost an estimated 6 percent of their employment base to the recession.

Annual average employment estimates for 2012 suggest that the recovery has stalled. From 2011 to 2012, 1.2 percent (180) total nonfarm jobs were recovered. Employment gains were made in private services-providing sectors, while goods producers remained flat and government continued to shed jobs. As of mid-2013, the employment situation appears to be holding steady rather than showing any clear signs of recovery.

Labor force and unemployment

(Source: Employment Security Department)

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

In 2012, Island County’s civilian labor force averaged 31,750. Of that, 29,140 people were employed and 2,610 were estimated to be unemployed and actively seeking work.

During this drawn-out period of recession and recovery, the peak unemployment rate in Island County (10.9 percent) was reached in February 2010. The average unemployment rate that year was 9.4 percent. The unemployment rate has been falling slowly but consistently throughout 2012 and 2013. The preliminary reported unemployment rate for June 2013 was a still-elevated 8.1 percent. Since the early 2000s, Island County’s unemployment rate has tracked closely with that of the state.

Labor force growth tends to be variable from year-to-year. The average annual rate of growth from 2006 to 2008 was 1.4 percent. Since 2008, the size of the resident labor force appears to have plateaued.


Industry employment

(Source: Employment Security Department)

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

Although the recession technically ended in June 2009, the employment situation in Island County did not begin to turn around until well into the recovery period. The lowest employment levels were reached in 2011 – a year after several other local counties had begun to turn the corner. Some industries that were particularly hard hit include construction and wholesale trade. Most industries are showing signs of recovery, with the exception of transportation, warehousing and utilities and government.

Island County averaged 15,260 nonfarm (non-military) jobs in 2012. This is up from an estimated 15,080 in 2011. Growth is attributable to hiring by private sector employers. Over the year, total employment was up an average of 1.2 percent. Washington state as a whole saw the addition of 42,300 jobs over the same time period, an increase of 1.5 percent.

  • Goods-producing industries supported an average of 1,410 jobs in 2012. This was the same level as in 2011. Island County goods-producing industries generally fall within two industries: construction and manufacturing. At its peak before the recession, the construction industry in Island County employed more than twice the number of workers found in manufacturing (1,630 and 660 respectively in 2007). As of 2012, the gap has narrowed to a difference of 120 jobs (760 and 640 respectively in 2012). The two industries were buffeted around in this recession very differently. From peak-to-trough, the construction industry declined by 870 or 53 percent. Manufacturing employment fell by 50 jobs and began to recover as early as 2010.
  • Service-providing industries supported an average of 13,860 jobs in 2012, up from 13,670 in 2011. On an annual basis, the service sector lost 640 jobs or 4 percent from peak-to-trough. Retail trade and information and financial activities have been showing modest growth. However transportation warehousing and utilities shed jobs from 2011 through 2012.
  • Non-military employment in the government sector averaged 4,520 jobs in 2012. This is down from an estimated 4,600 in 2011. Government payrolls declined even as private payrolls rose in light of declining tax revenues over the past couple of years.

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, Island County’s labor market was slightly older than that of the state. The largest age category of workers is 45-54, followed by 55-64.

In 2012, Females held 57.6 percent of the civilian jobs in Island County compared to 42.4 percent of civilian jobs held by males.

  • Male-dominated industries in Island County included construction (81.6 percent) and transportation and warehousing (74.6 percent).
  • Female-dominated industries included healthcare and social assistance (81.1 percent) and management of companies and enterprises (79.6 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)

The median hourly wage (adjusted for inflation) for jobs in Island County in 2011 was $18.48 compared to the state’s $21.59 median wage.

The 2012 average annual wage was approximately $34,782, well below the state and national averages.

In 2011, 9.5 percent of Island County’s population was living below the poverty level, lower than the state at 13.9 percent and the nation at 15.9 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

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 2011, Island County per capita personal income was $38,268, below the state and nation, as it has been since at least 1969. For comparison, Washington per capita income was $43,878 in 2011 and the national per capita income was $41,560.



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

Island County’s resident population was 79,700 in 2013. Its total growth from 2003 to 2013 was 8.2 percent, lower than the 12.3 percent for the state over the same period. Oak Harbor is the largest city in the county, with a population of 22,080.

Population facts

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Island County Washington state
Population 2013 79,700 6,882,400
Population 2003 73,630 6,126,892
Percent change, 2003 to 2013 8.2% 12.3%

Age, gender and ethnicity

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

When compared with the state, Island County’s population had a larger proportion of its residents age 65 and older, 20.3 percent compared to 13.2 percent.

Females made up 50.3 percent of Island County’s population, slightly above that of the state (50.1 percent).

The county is less diverse than Washington state in terms of race and ethnicity. In 2012, 86.9 percent of the Island County population was white compared with 81.6 percent at the state level. Just 6.2 percent of Island County’s population is Hispanic or Latino versus 11.7 percent in Washington state.


(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Island County Washington state
Population by age, 2012
Under 5 years old 5.6% 6.4%
Under 18 years old 19.6% 23.0%
65 years and older 20.3% 13.2%
Females, 2012 50.3% 50.1%
Race/ethnicity, 2012
White 86.9% 81.6%
Black 2.6% 3.9%
American Indian, Alaskan Native 0.9% 1.8%
Asian, Native Hawaiian, Other Pacific Islander 5.2% 8.4%
Hispanic or Latino, any race 6.2% 11.7%

Educational attainment

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Of the Island County residents age 25 and up, 94.9 percent graduated from high school, which compares favorably with 89.8 percent of Washington state residents and 85.9 percent of U.S. residents during 2007-2011.

Those with a bachelor’s degree or higher made up 30.4 percent of Island County adults while 31.4 percent at the state level and 28.5 nationally have that much education during this same period.