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King County Profile

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


Regional context

King County is situated between Puget Sound to the west and the crest line of the Cascade Range to the east. It borders Snohomish County to the north and Pierce County to the south. King County has points at sea level and a high point of nearly 8,000 feet.

King County and Seattle, the county seat, are the most populous county and city in Washington state. King County ranks 11th in the state in terms of land area and first in the state for population density.

Local economy

Lumber played a major role in King County’s early history, especially before the Great Seattle Fire of 1889. Seattle also served as an important stopping point for those hoping to prospect in Alaska. In more recent decades, the region was highly dependent on the aerospace industry. Aerospace still plays an important role, but a much smaller percentage of workers have specialized in the industry over the past 10 years.

Throughout the 1990s, the county underwent extraordinary gains in employment, population and wages. Despite the county’s increasing cost of living, especially in housing, the high-tech job boom lured well-educated newcomers to the area. The county continues to hold a strong national reputation as a hub for information technology development.

In 2005, the county was renamed in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The area is culturally diverse and aims to be a place where people from a variety of backgrounds can feel at home. King County has an active port, maintaining extensive connections to East Asian markets.

Today, the King County economy is still recovering from the 2007 recession, although the local recovery is leading the statewide recovery and is more promising than that seen nationwide. King County’s labor market peaked in 2008 when annual average total nonfarm employment was in excess of 1.2 million. Employment levels hit bottom in 2010, but have been on the upswing ever since. For the past several months, employment levels have, once again, entered the 1.2 million range.

Major industry sectors in King County with more than 100,000 estimated jobs include professional, scientific and technical services, government, education and health services, leisure and hospitality, retail trade and manufacturing.

The unemployment rate in King County has been steadily and consistently declining since reaching a peak level of 9.6 percent in early 2010. Throughout the recession and recovery, King County’s unemployment rate has been lower than that of Washington state. As of June 2013, the not seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in King County was 5.2 percent.


Geographic facts

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

King County Rank in state
Land area, 2013 (square miles) 2,115.57 11
Persons per square mile, 2013 936.82 1



It will take time to rebuild the economy, but the local outlook is showing very hopeful signs. The recovery has looked very different depending on where one lives; and King County has been at the center of the statewide recovery. All major sectors have experienced positive employment growth, albeit to varying degrees. Industries reporting the largest post-recession gains include professional and business services, retail trade, manufacturing and wholesale trade.

King County’s early recovery was driven in large part by manufacturing and professional and business services. In recent months, growth has shifted to professional and business services, retail and leisure and hospitality. Government payrolls have been declining in light of weak revenues. Manufacturing employment has slowed and projections continue to fluctuate depending on aerospace announcements. Aircraft production at Renton is expected to continue into the future.


Labor force and unemployment

(Source: Employment Security Department)

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

King County’s 2012 labor force was about 1.1 million, with an unemployment rate of 7.0 percent. Within this estimate, a little over 1 million county residents were counted among the employed and nearly 78 thousand were counted among the unemployed.

During the recent period of recession and recovery, peak unemployment rates were reached in early 2010. The average unemployment rate for 2010 was 9.1 percent. Since reaching peak, the unemployment rate has been on a consistent downward trend. The reported unemployment rate in June 2013 was 5.2 percent.

From 2005 to 2009, the King County labor force expanded by an average of 2.3 percent per year. From 2009 to 2012, the labor force dipped and stalled as people departed. Fortunately, early 2013 is showing signs of an expanding labor force.


Industry employment

(Source: Employment Security Department)

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

King County is the largest labor market in the state. The financial crash and most recent national recession struck King County later than other areas. Once the crisis hit, the county suffered harsh losses, particularly in industries such as construction.

King County averaged approximately 1.18 million nonfarm jobs in 2012, up from the 2011 approximate total of 1.15 million. From 2011 to 2012, total employment increased an average of 2.6 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-producers supplied an average of 157,100 jobs in 2012, up 5.0 percent from 149,600 in 2011.
    • Construction saw the largest year-over-year gains. From 2011 to 2012, the industry added nearly 4,000 jobs or 7.9 percent and is expected to expand in the next couple years.
    • Manufacturing added 3,500 jobs or 3.5 percent over the year. Hiring in manufacturing has slowed in the first months of 2013 and is expected to decline in the coming months.
  • Service-providing employment averaged 2.2 percent growth from 2011 to 2012, adding more than 22,000 jobs.
    • All major industries in the diverse service-providing sector grew from 2011 to 2012. The largest year-to-year employment gains were made in professional and business services. Professional and business services employment expanded by 7,500 jobs or 4.0 percent.
  • Government employment averaged 165,300 in 2012. From 2011 to 2012, the public sector added 400 to annual average payrolls or 0.2 percent. Government shed an estimated 2,000 jobs from 2010 to 2011.

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:

King County has a young workforce, relative to the rest of Washington state. The largest jobholder age group in King County in 2011 was the 25 to 34 year-olds at 24.2 percent of the workforce. This percentage was closely followed by jobholders aged 35 to 44, with 23.5 percent of the workforce.

In 2011, men held 51.7 percent and women held 48.3 percent of the jobs in King County. There were substantial differences in gender dominance by industry.

  • Male-dominated industries included mining (88.7 percent), construction (82.9 percent), agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting (74.3 percent), manufacturing (72.1 percent) and information (68.8 percent).
  • Female-dominated industries included healthcare and social assistance (75.1 percent), educational services (66.7 percent) and finance and insurance (59.9 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 2012, there were approximately 1.16 million jobs covered by unemployment insurance, with a total payroll of approximately $76.6 billion.

The 2012 average annual wage was $65,830.

The median hourly wage in 2011 was $25.97, above the state’s median hourly wage of $21.59.

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, per capita personal income was $57,837, more than the state ($43,878) and the nation ($41,560).

According to the American Community Survey, the median household income was $68,775 in 2011. The county’s median was more than the state ($56,835) and the nation ($50,502).

In 2011, 12.0 percent of the population was living below the poverty level, lower than the state at 13.9 percent. Of King County’s children under 18, 14.4 percent were living below the poverty level, compared to the state’s 18.3 percent childhood poverty measurement.



(Source: U.S. Census Bureau)

King County’s population was over 1.9 million in 2013. The county’s population grew at a slower rate (10.8 percent) than the state (12.3 percent) over the decade.

The largest city in King County is Seattle (626,600 in 2013, up 9.5 percent in 10 years). Other large cities include Bellevue, Auburn, Federal Way and Renton.

Population facts

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

King County Washington state
Population 2013 1,981,900 6,882,400
Population 2003 1,788,082 6,126,892
Percent change, 2003 to 2013 10.8% 12.3%

Age, gender and ethnicity

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

The age distribution of King County residents compared to the state and the nation reflects a large working-age adult population and smaller resident populations at either end of the age spectrum. Residents age 25 to 54 have a proportionally high presence in King County, while residents age 0 to 24 and 55+ have a less prominent presence relative to shares seen at the state and national levels. The population distribution by age is expected to smooth over time, as the baby boom generation ages.

King County had larger black and Asian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander populations than the state as a whole.

Females in the 2012 county population estimate made up 50.1 percent, the same as for the state.


(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

King County Washington state
Population by age, 2012
Under 5 years old 6.2% 6.4%
Under 18 years old 21.1% 23.0%
65 years and older 11.6% 13.2%
Females, 2012 50.1% 50.1%
Race/ethnicity, 2012
White 71.3% 81.6%
Black 6.5% 3.9%
American Indian, Alaskan Native 1.0% 1.8%
Asian, Native Hawaiian, Other Pacific Islander 16.3% 8.4%
Hispanic or Latino, any race 9.2% 11.7%

Educational attainment

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Most King County residents age 25 and older (91.7 percent) were high school graduates, which compares favorably with 90.1 percent of Washington State’s residents and 85.9 percent of U.S. residents.

Those with a bachelor’s degree or higher made up 45.7 percent of King County residents age 25 and older compared to 31.9 percent of the state residents and 28.5 percent of U.S. residents.