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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 is still a key industry, but its share of total employment in King County has been declining 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. King 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. In 2013, King County employment exceeded 2008 peak levels. As of July 2014, preliminary employment levels are approaching 1.3 million.

Major industry sectors in King County with more than 100,000 estimated jobs include professional and business services, education and health services, government, 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 July 2014, the not seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in King County was 4.9 percent.


Geographic facts

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

King County Rank in state
Land area, 2014 (square miles) 2,115.57 11
Persons per square mile, 2014 953.53 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 industry sectors have experienced positive employment growth, albeit to varying degrees. Industries reporting the largest proportional post-recession gains include professional and business services, retail trade, leisure and hospitality, construction and manufacturing.

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 over the past couple years, however 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 2013 labor force was about 1.1 million, with an unemployment rate of 5.2 percent. Within this estimate, a little over 1 million county residents were counted among the employed and nearly 60 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 July 2014 was 4.9 percent.

From 2005 to 2009, the King County labor force expanded by an average of 2.5 percent per year. From 2009 to 2010, the labor force dipped and stalled as employment fell. Since 2010, the labor force in King County has been expanding, albeit at a slow pace.


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 1.23 million nonfarm jobs in 2013, up from the 2012 total of 1.20 million. From 2012 to 2013, total employment increased an average of 3.1 percent. Washington state as a whole saw the addition of 65,500 jobs over the same time period, an increase of 2.2 percent.

  • Goods-producers supplied an average of 160,200 jobs in 2013, up 3.9 percent from 2012. King County’s goods producing employers supplied approximately 13 percent of total nonfarm jobs in 2013.
    • Employers in the construction industry added 3,500 jobs (6.8 percent) from 2012 to 2013. The construction industry is expected to continue to experience high growth into the future, due to pent up demand during the recession.
    • Manufacturing added 2,500 jobs or 2.4 percent over the year. Hiring in manufacturing slowed over the past several months. As of July 2014, the year-over-year difference (not seasonally adjusted) has diminished to an estimated 1,600 jobs or 1.5 percent.
  • Service-providing employment accounted for 87.0 percent of all nonfarm jobs in King County in 2013. From 2012 to 2013, service-providing industries together added 31,000 jobs or 3.0 percent.
    • Payrolls in all major service-providing industries expanded from 2012 to 2013.
    • The largest year-to-year employment gains were made in professional and business services. Professional and business services employment expanded by 8,100 jobs or 4.2 percent. Retail trade and leisure and hospitality also reported strong employment growth over the year.

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. In 2012, The largest jobholder age group in King County was the 25 to 34 year-old age group (24.5 percent of the workforce). This percentage was closely followed by jobholders aged 35 to 44, with 23.5 percent of the workforce. For comparison, the workforce age 25 to 34 and 35 to 44 in Washington state made up 22.5 and 21.5 percent respectively. The proportion of workers age 55 and older in King County is lower than seen statewide.

In 2012, men held 52.7 percent and women held 47.3 percent of the jobs in King County. There were substantial differences in gender dominance by industry.

  • Male-dominated industries included mining (88.5 percent), construction (82.9 percent), agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting (74.3 percent), manufacturing (72.4 percent) and information (68.5 percent).
  • Female-dominated industries included healthcare and social assistance (74.9 percent), educational services (66.6 percent) and finance and insurance (59.4 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 nearly 1.20 million jobs covered by unemployment insurance, with a total payroll of approximately $80.6 billion.

The 2013 average annual wage was $67,239.

The median hourly wage in 2013 was $26.19, above 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, per capita personal income was $60,090, more than the state ($46,045) and the nation ($43,735).

According to the American Community Survey, the median household income was $69,047 in 2012. The county’s median was greater than the state ($57,573) and the nation ($51,371).

In 2012, 11.9 percent of the population was living below the poverty level, lower than the state at 13.5 percent. Of King County’s children under 18, 15.8 percent were living below the poverty level, compared to the state’s 18.5 percent childhood poverty measurement.



(Source: U.S. Census Bureau)

King County’s population was over 2.0 million in 2014. The county’s population grew at a slower rate (12.0 percent) than the state (12.2 percent) over the decade. Recent growth has been higher than the state average. From 2013 to 2014, the total King County population expanded by 1.8 percent compared to 1.2 percent for the state.

The largest city in King County is Seattle (640,500 in 2014, up 11.9 percent in 10 years). Other large cities include Bellevue, Kent, Renton, Federal Way and Kirkland.

Population facts

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

King County Washington state
Population 2014 2,017,250 6,968,170
Population 2004 1,800,782 6,208,527
Percent change, 2004 to 2014 12.0% 12.2%

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 proportionally larger Black, Asian and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander populations than the state as a whole.


(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

King County Washington state
Population by age, 2013
Under 5 years old 6.2% 6.4%
Under 18 years old 21.1% 22.9%
65 years and older 11.9% 13.6%
Females, 2013 50.0% 50.0%
Race/ethnicity, 2013
White 70.8% 81.2%
Black 6.6% 4.0%
American Indian, Alaskan Native 1.1% 1.9%
Asian, Native Hawaiian, Other Pacific Islander 16.7% 8.6%
Hispanic or Latino, any race 9.3% 11.9%

Educational attainment

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Overall, King County has a more highly-educated population than the state or national average.

Most of King County residents age 25 and older (92.0 percent) were high school graduates, which compares favorably with 90.0 percent of Washington State’s residents and 85.7 percent of U.S. residents with a high school diploma.

Those with a bachelor’s degree or higher made up 46.0 percent of King County residents age 25 and older compared to 31.6 percent of state residents and 28.5 percent of U.S. residents.