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Mason County Profile

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


Regional context

The county now known as Mason was first established as Sawamish County in 1854. Carved out of Thurston County, it extended to the Pacific Ocean. In 1864, it was renamed Mason County. It encompasses the southern part of Hood Canal and many bays and inlets of south Puget Sound. The indigenous peoples include the Coast Salish. European contact in the 1700s brought disease that decimated the native populations. In the 1840s, American settlers arrived and began farming.

Local economy

Forest products became the largest industry in the county, and expanded greatly when the railroads made it possible to feed the various mills in the area. Work on creating a terminus for the transcontinental railroad in Union came to an abrupt halt with the Panic of 1893, the most serious economic crisis in the nation’s history. Mason County was fortunate, however, in that banker Alfred Anderson partnered with loggers to get them back to work and then with Sol Simpson to create the Simpson Logging Company, which became the largest employer in the state. In the 1980s, the Forest Service eliminated most timber sales to protect the spotted owl.

The prison in Shelton added hundreds of beds during this period, helping to offset job losses in the forest industry. Recreation as well as oyster and seafood production and processing also have increased in importance. Mason County also has become an important bedroom community for commuters to Thurston and Pierce counties. In 2014, 52.3 percent of earned income came from residents working outside the county.


Geographic facts

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Mason County Rank in state
Land area, 2010 (square miles) 959.42 29
Persons per square mile, 2010 63.3 15



Mason County has reduced its unemployment rate levels to those last seen in 2008. However, the return to pre-recession employment totals in some industries will be slow. Manufacturing had over 1,900 jobs as recently as 2006 compared to an average of 1,320 so far in 2015. Construction also showed a decline of over 37.0 percent. The only area showing growth since that time is the services sector, particularly in retail trade, professional and business services and state and local government. These trends appear likely to continue in 2016.

Labor force and unemployment

(Source: Employment Security Department)

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

The last 29 months of data have shown Mason County in single digit unemployment, compared to the January 2010 high of 13.9 percent. The November 2015 rate was 6.9 percent, down from 8.4 percent in November 2014.

The labor force has declined on an annual average basis since 2008, when it stood at 25,400. In the first eleven months of 2015 it has averaged 23,225. Some of the drop in unemployment rates results from this declining labor force. That is a situation that has been seen throughout the state and country as more people dropped out of active job searches or retired. Some of it can also be credited with steady strength in the local job market and a return to more favorable labor market conditions.


Industry employment

(Source: Employment Security Department)

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

Nonfarm industry employment in Mason County has been steadily improving since 2013. There have been gains in most industries since the sharp declines beginning in 2009.

The November 2015 total of 14,700 jobs is 230 more jobs than in November 2014. The largest industries in the Mason County economy remain government (5,560) and trade, transportation and utilities (2,320). The manufacturing industry in November accounted for 1,380 jobs, but saw a loss of 200 jobs over the year. The 2015 industry employment represents a small increase in total nonfarm employment compared to the first eleven months of 2014. This trend will likely be the norm heading into 2016 although manufacturing will face significant headwinds.

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 is presented by place of work, not place of residence. Some highlights:

In 2014, the largest jobholder age group in Mason County was the 55 and older age category, making up 26.7 percent of employment across all industries. The next largest share was among persons aged 45 to 54 with 21.9 percent of employment.

In 2014, the county’s workers mirrored state patterns with workers ages 14 to 24 dominating the accommodation and food services jobs in the county with over 32.7 percent of the positions. This age group was also well represented in arts, entertainment and recreation and retail trade.

Workers in the 55 year and older age category were prevalent in educational services (42.7 percent), transportation and warehousing (34.2 percent), real estate and rental and leasing (39.6 percent), other services (37.1 percent) and professional, scientific, and technical services (38.8 percent).

Females made up 51.2 percent of the labor force in Mason County with males making up the difference at 48.8 percent in 2014. Men were more often represented in higher paying industries.

  • Male-dominated industries included agriculture (76.4 percent), construction (80.4 percent), manufacturing (80.2 percent) and transportation and warehousing (70.7 percent).
  • Female-dominated industries included finance and insurance (81.4 percent), healthcare and social assistance (81.8 percent) and educational services (72.1 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 2014, there were 13,899 jobs covered by unemployment insurance in Mason County, with a total payroll of over $510.0 million.

Mason County’s average annual wage in 2014 was $36,693, below the state’s average of $55,003.

The median hourly wage in 2014 was $18.55, below the state’s median hourly wage of $22.61 and the state excluding King County median hourly wage of $19.85. Mason County ranked 20th in the state in its median hourly wage in 2014.

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.

Personal income in 2014 lagged both the state and nation as Mason County’s per capita personal income was $35,732. The U.S. average was $46,049 and the state rate was $49,610. Mason County ranked 30th in the state in its per capita personal income in 2013.

The median household income in Mason County was $49,538 in 2010-2014 according to U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts. The county’s median was less than the state’s ($60,294) and the nation’s ($53,482).

Over the period 2010-2014, 15.6 percent of the Mason County’s population was living below the poverty level, compared with 13.2 percent for the state and the nation at 14.8 percent. The state and national rates are not directly comparable to the county rate because they each use different data sources.



(Source: U.S. Census Bureau)

The population of Mason County has slightly increased since 2010. The largest city is Shelton, population 9,777, with the balance of residents living in unincorporated areas. Shelton has seen a 0.7 percent decline in population since 2010.

Population facts

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Mason County Washington state
Population 2014 60,711 7,061,530
Population 2010 60,699 6,724,543
Percent change, 2010 to 2014 0.0% 5.0%

Age, gender and ethnicity

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Mason County is somewhat older than the statewide average, with fewer individuals under the age of 18 and more 65 and older. The county is less diverse than the state in terms of race and ethnicity, with 88.3 percent white and 1.4 percent black. Only American Indians and Alaskan Natives are more common here than in the state.


(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Mason County Washington state
Population by age, 2014    
Under 5 years old 5.4% 6.3%
Under 18 years old 19.3% 22.7%
65 years and older 21.3% 14.1%
Females, 2014 48.3% 50.0%
Race/ethnicity, 2014
White 88.3% 80.7%
Black 1.4% 4.1%
American Indian, Alaskan Native 4.5% 1.9%
Asian, Native Hawaiian, Other Pacific Islander 1.7% 8.9%
Hispanic or Latino, any race 8.9% 12.2%

Educational attainment

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

During the period 2010-2014, 87.3 percent of persons age 25 and older were high school graduates, similar to the 90.2 rate for the state. However, only 17.9 percent held a Bachelor’s degree or higher, compared with 32.3 percent for the state.