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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 smaller islands. Island County is the second smallest county in Washington by landmass, just larger than neighboring San Juan County. Island County is bounded to the north by Deception Pass, Puget Sound to the south, Skagit Bay and Saratoga Passage to the east and Admiralty Inlet and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Skagit and Snohomish Counties lie to the east of Island County and the Olympic Peninsula lies across the water to the west.

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 21,940 in 2014.

Local economy

For thousands of years, the islands of Island County were inhabited by several groups of Coast Salish Indians. In the late 1700s and early 1800s the population was decimated by disease transmitted through contact with European and American explorers.

Settlement by non-indigenous people began in the 1850s. Early industries included logging, fishing and farming, as well as some related manufacturing industries.

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; consequently, 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 15,520 in 2013. Nearly 29 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, Washington Office of Financial Management)

Island County Rank in state
Land area, 2014 (square miles) 208.45 38
Persons per square mile, 2014 383.79 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 2008 to 2011, Island County lost 1,370 nonfarm jobs or about 8 percent. 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 2013 suggest that the recovery has stalled. From 2011 to 2012, 0.6 percent (100) total nonfarm jobs were recovered. Employment gains were made in private services-providing sectors, goods-producers remained flat and government continued to shed jobs. As of mid-2014 the employment situation appears to be holding still 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 2013, Island County’s civilian labor force averaged 30,120. Of that, 27,800 people were employed and 2,320 were estimated to be unemployed and actively seeking work. The average unemployment rate in 2013 was 7.7 percent.

During this drawn-out period of recession and recovery, the peak unemployment rate in Island County (11.0 percent) was observed in February 2010. The average unemployment rate that year was 9.5 percent. The unemployment rate has been falling slowly but consistently since its peak in 2010. The preliminary reported unemployment rate for July 2014 was 5.9 percent. Since the early 2000s, Island County’s unemployment rate has tracked closely with that of the state.

The size of Island County’s labor force tends to fluctuate from year-to-year. The years 2005 through 2008 marked a time of labor force expansion in Island County. The average annual rate of growth during that time period was 1.4 percent. The size of the resident civilian labor force has declined every year since after reaching an average annual peak level of 32,940 in 2008.


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 retail trade. Since reaching the lowest levels of employment in 2011, industries that have been expanding employment include leisure and hospitality, professional and business services, construction and manufacturing.

Island County averaged 15,520 nonfarm (non-military) jobs in 2013. This is unchanged from 2012 estimated employment. Washington state as a whole saw the addition of 65,000 jobs over the same time period; an increase of 2.2 percent.

  • Goods-producing industries supported an average of 1,440 jobs in 2013. This was unchanged from 2012 to 2013. 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 jobs found in manufacturing (1,630 and 660 respectively in 2007). As of 2013, the gap has narrowed to a difference of 120 jobs (780 and 660 respectively in 2013). 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 20 jobs and began to recover as early as 2010.
  • Service-providing industries supported an average of 14,070 jobs in 2013, down slightly from 14,080 in 2012. On an annual basis, the service sector lost 480 jobs or 3.3 percent from peak-to-trough. Since 2011, growth has been observed in leisure and hospitality and professional and business services. Decline has been observed in several sectors—even into the recovery—with the greatest declines observed in government.
  • Non-military employment in the government sector averaged 4,470 jobs in 2013. This is down from an estimated 4,500 in 2012. Government payrolls declined even as private payrolls rose in light of declining tax revenues over the past couple 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. Statewide, 20.9 percent of the workforce was age 55 or older. Compare with Island County where 26.8 percent of the workforce was age 55 or older.

In 2012, females held 57.7 percent of the civilian jobs in Island County. Statewide, females made up 49.6 percent of the civilian workforce.

  • The three most male-dominated industries in Island County included construction (82.4 percent), transportation and warehousing (72.0 percent) and Information (68.4 percent) in 2012.
  • Female-dominated industries included management of companies and enterprises (83.8 percent), healthcare and social assistance (80.9 percent) and finance and insurance (74.3 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)

The median hourly wage (adjusted for inflation) for jobs in Island County in 2012 was $18.23 compared to the $21.64 state median wage.

The 2013 average annual wage was approximately $34,672, well below state and national averages.

In 2012, 8.7 percent of Island County’s population was living below the poverty level, lower than the state at 13.5 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 2012, Island County per capita personal income was $41,350, below the state and nation, as it has been since at least 1969. For comparison, Washington per capita income was $46,045 in 2012 and the national per capita income was $43,735.



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

Island County’s resident population is estimated to be 80,000 in 2014. Its total growth from 2004 to 2014 was 7.3 percent, lower than the 12.2 percent growth observed for the state over the same period. Oak Harbor is the largest city in Island County, with a population of 21,940.

Population facts

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

Island County Washington state
Population 2014 80,000 6,968,170
Population 2004 74,549 6,208,527
Percent change, 2004 to 2014 7.3% 12.2%

Age, gender and ethnicity

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

When compared with the state, Island County’s had a larger proportion of residents age 65 and older, 21.5 percent compared to 13.6 percent statewide.

Females made up 50.3 percent of Island County’s population, slightly above that of the state (50.0 percent).

Island County is less diverse than Washington state as a whole in terms of race and ethnicity. In 2013, 86.6 percent of the Island County population was white compared with 81.2 percent at the state level. Just 6.7 percent of Island County’s population is Hispanic or Latino versus 11.9 percent of Washington state’s population.


(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Island County Washington state
Population by age, 2013
Under 5 years old 5.6% 6.4%
Under 18 years old 19.3% 22.9%
65 years and older 21.5% 13.6%
Females, 2013 50.3% 50.0%
Race/ethnicity, 2013
White 86.6% 81.2%
Black 2.7% 4.0%
American Indian, Alaskan Native 1.0% 1.9%
Asian, Native Hawaiian, Other Pacific Islander 5.3% 8.6%
Hispanic or Latino, any race 6.7% 11.9%

Educational attainment

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Of the Island County residents age 25 and up, 95.0 percent graduated from high school, which compares favorably with 90.4 percent of Washington state residents and 86.4 percent of U.S. residents in the period 2008-2012.

Those with a bachelor’s degree or higher made up 32.0 percent of Island County adults, while 31.7 percent at the state level and 29.1 nationally have that much education.