Skip Navigation

Home : Reports, data & tools : County Profiles : Pierce County Profile

Pierce County Profile

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


Regional context

Pierce County is an inland area in the northwest part of the state that includes Puget Sound, the Puget Sound lowlands and the surrounding region west of the Cascade Range and east of the Olympic Mountains. Formed out of Thurston County in 1852 by the legislature of the Oregon Territory, it was named for U.S. President Franklin Pierce. The county has a total area of roughly 1,800 square miles, of which 1,670 square miles is land and 130 square miles is water. The highest natural point in Washington, Mount Rainier at 14,410 feet, is located in Pierce County.

Local economy

The founding of Pierce County encouraged a slow but steady stream of new settlements. Tacoma was founded in 1872. When the Northern Pacific Railroad announced in 1873 that its northwest terminus would locate in Tacoma, the city and surrounding county grew into a regional leader.

The lumber industry, at the time dominated by the St. Paul & Tacoma Lumber Co., helped the area to develop further. World War I brought an industrial boom as the region's lumber was used in local shipyards. The U.S. Army built Camp Lewis, which would later grow into Fort Lewis, on 70,000 acres of land on the Nisqually plain purchased by Tacoma voters. In 1918, the voters created the Port of Tacoma, which began improving industrial waterways and facilities.

In the years following World War II, economic significance within the region began shifting when the Boeing Company established Seattle as a center for aircraft manufacturing. Microsoft's 1979 move from Albuquerque, New Mexico to nearby Bellevue helped to develop Seattle as a technology center in the 1980s. A stream of new software, biotechnology and Internet companies into the area led to an economic revival. This development prompted the Tacoma-Pierce area to begin transitioning out of its wood and paper products manufacturing.

Many Pierce County residents, looking to replace the manufacturing wages lost during the industrial transition, began commuting to jobs in King County. Today, more than 25 percent of the workforce in Pierce County travels to jobs in King County. The developing economy in King County, which exerted upward pressure on land values and housing costs, encouraged workers who might normally have lived in King County to reside in Pierce and other neighboring counties.

Pierce County has continued to diversify out of a manufacturing and resource-based economy into a more service-oriented one. Forward momentum dissipated with the 2001 recession, but was regained with the economic recovery in 2003. The economy slowed again in 2007 when falling housing prices curtailed construction, and sharply regressed in the near-collapse of the global financial industry. The ensuing world financial panic adversely affected employment in every local industry, with the exception of healthcare.

The Pierce County has been slow to recover jobs lost during the Great Recession. Nonfarm payroll employment is only slightly ahead of where the county was in April 2011 according to April 2012 preliminary figures, up 2.7 percent.

Pierce County continues to maintain its economic identity, based upon traditional strengths and as a regional component of the Puget Sound economy. It serves as a healthcare provider for South Puget Sound, represented by MultiCare Health System, Franciscan Health System and DaVita. Aerospace manufacturing plays a growing role with the Boeing Company. Facilities within the county produce vertical tail fins for several of the company’s newer aircraft models as well as a number of related aircraft parts. Toray Composites is another firm related to the industry.

The Port of Tacoma and Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) comprise two traditional economic components of the local economy. Investments made in improving the Port’s facilities together with its expanding role in the era of economic globalization have allowed it to handle growing volumes of shipments. The Port is a major center for bulk and heavy-lift cargoes, as well as automobiles and medium-duty trucks. In 2011, the Port handled 1.5 million containers and other cargo types, contributing to nearly $34.5 billion in international trade and about $3.0 billion in trade to Alaska.


Geographic facts

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Pierce County Rank in State
Land area, 2010 (square miles) 1,669.51 23
Persons per square mile, 2010 476.3 4



The state, the region and Pierce County all continue to struggle to recover from the effects of the Great Recession. A number of factors associated with the recession have resulted in disappointing, subpar economic growth and persistently high unemployment during 2011 and so far in 2012.

Job creation has followed the normal seasonal pattern that occurs in the county, but for most of 2011, total nonfarm employment has kept pace with 2010. Only during the fourth quarter of 2011 did it seem like the labor market made some headway. Indications suggest that the stronger 2011 fourth quarter may carry over to 2012.

Pierce County will continue to benefit from its economic ties to King County. Orders for new aircraft continue to flow to Boeing, and that should keep the Pierce County affiliations busy. Like all counties throughout the state, government is a viable part of the local economy and is a significant employer. Budget cuts at the state level affect everything from employment and local funding, to education and healthcare funding.

Economic forces that have resulted in slow revenue growth and increased pension liabilities are likely to continue reducing the level of state and local spending. Housing inventory overhang, reduced demand and a relatively high rate of foreclosures in Pierce County will continue to restrain the level of home-building and construction activity in 2012. Pierce County has been at or near the top of the list of counties in the state as far as foreclosure activity is concerned.

Household spending is likely to remain subdued as consumers continue to pay down existing debt and new debt created through holiday purchases. Income growth has also been restrained by sluggish job growth and elevated food and energy prices. Foreign policy developments are resulting in a military exit from the Middle East that is expected to reduce the payroll levels of civilian support workers at JBLM.

When all of the above is added together, the Pierce County labor market in 2012 is expected to look much like 2011. Employment growth is expected to be positive in 2012, but marginal overall, with a very gradual lowering of the local unemployment rate.


Labor force and unemployment

(Source: Employment Security Department)

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

At the time of this writing, the most recent estimate of the size of the civilian labor force in Pierce County was the April 2012 preliminary estimate. It shows the size of the local labor force to be 394,460, up from 387,460 in April 2011.

The unemployment rate trended lower during the 1990s economic expansion, and averaged around 4 percent at its low point. During the 2001 economic recession, the unemployment rate reached a high of 8.9 percent in June 2003. The 2007 recession pushed the local unemployment rate over 11 percent in January 2010.

The April 2012 preliminary unemployment rate estimate was 9.0 percent, down from a revised 9.8 percent one year earlier.


Industry employment

(Source: Employment Security Department)

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

Pierce County total nonfarm employment looks to have bottomed out from the effects of the 2007 recession and appears poised to modestly expand in 2012. As of April 2011, there was an increase of 9,490 jobs over the year.

  • Pierce County had 265,300 nonfarm jobs on average in 2011, making it the state’s second largest labor market behind King County.
  • Most of the jobs in Pierce County are private sector jobs, which make up 78 percent of all total nonfarm jobs. Government employment accounts for the remaining 22 percent.
  • Retail and wholesale trade employment accounts for roughly 16 percent of all the total nonfarm jobs in Pierce County. Employment in this industry tends to track very well with population growth, but is most sensitive to changes in business cycle activity.

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 2010, the largest jobholder age group in Pierce County was the 45 to 54 age category, making up 23.7 percent of jobs across all industries. The next largest share is among persons aged 25 to 34 with 21.5 percent of jobs.

Males held 46.9 percent of jobs and females held 53.1 percent of jobs in 2010.

  • Male-dominated industries included mining (84.8 percent), construction (83.2 percent) and manufacturing (76.8 percent).
  • Female-dominated industries included healthcare and social assistance (79.9 percent), educational services (72.2 percent) and finance and insurance (69.8 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 2011, there were 260,184 jobs in Pierce County covered by unemployment insurance, with a total payroll of more than $11.2 billion.

The average annual wage was $43,039, below the state’s average annual wage of $50,264.

The median hourly wage in 2010 was $19.76, which surpasses the state’s median hourly wage of $18.68 when King County is excluded, but falls just below the state’s median hourly wage of $21.01 when King County is included.

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 2010, the per capita personal income was $40,500, less than the state ($42,589), but above the nation ($39,937).

The median household income in Pierce County was $56,510 in 2010. This figure was above the median household income of the state ($55,631) and above that of the nation ($50,046).

In 2006 - 2010, 11.6 percent of the population of Pierce County was living below the poverty level, compared to the state at 12.1 percent and the nation (13.8 percent).



(Source: U.S. Census Bureau)

Pierce County’s population in 2010 was 795,225. The population grew by 13.5 percent from 2000, slightly slower than the statewide rate of 14.1 percent.

The largest city in Pierce County is Tacoma with 198,397 residents. Its rate of population growth over the decade was only 2.5 percent.

Population facts

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Pierce County Washington State
Population 2010 795,225 6,724,540
Population 2000 700,820 5,894,121
Percent Change, 2000 to 2010 13.5% 14.1%

Age, gender and ethnicity

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Pierce County has proportionately more young people (below the age of 18) and fewer older residents (65 and older) than the state.

  • Pierce County had 7 percent of its population under the age of 5 years compared to the state’s share of 6.5 percent.
  • Those under the age of 18 made up 24.9 percent of Pierce County’s population compared to 23.5 percent of the state’s population.
  • The oldest age group, those 65 and older, made up 11 percent of Pierce County’s population compared to 12.3 percent of the state’s population. The Baby Boomers are projected to continue to increase for the next 20 years.

Females made up 50.6 percent of the population in Pierce County compared with 50.2 percent of the population in Washington state.

Pierce County has been becoming more diverse along racial and ethnic lines. Black residents made up 6.8 percent of Pierce County’s total population compared to 3.6 percent of the state’s population.


(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Pierce County Washington State
Population by age, 2010
Under 5 years old 7.0% 6.5%
Under 18 years old 24.9% 23.5%
65 years and older 11.0% 12.3%
Females, 2010 50.6% 50.2%
Race/ethnicity, 2010
White 74.2% 77.3%
Black 6.8% 3.6%
American Indian, Alaskan Native 1.4% 1.5%
Asian, Native Hawaiian, Other Pacific Islander 7.3% 7.8%
Hispanic or Latino, any race 9.2% 11.2%

Educational attainment

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Most Pierce County residents age 25 and older were high school graduates (89.8 percent) over the period of 2006 to 2010, which is about the same as the state average (89.6 percent) and above the national average (85.0 percent).

Of Pierce County residents age 25 and older, 23.4 percent hold bachelor’s degree or higher compared with the state average of 30.0 percent and the national average of 27.9 over the same period.