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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 employment losses occurred in every local industry, with the exception of healthcare. Since then Pierce County has recovered jobs lost during the Great Recession. Nonfarm payroll employment is ahead of where the county was in 2014 according to the most recent figures.

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, DaVita and the Franciscan Health System. 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-McCord (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. The ports of Tacoma and Seattle have also formed the Northwest Seaport Alliance, the third largest container gateway in North America. In 2015, the Alliance handled more than 3.5 million 20 foot equivalent units, an increase of 4.0 percent. Auto imports also reached a new record of 183,305 vehicles. The overall economic impact of this marine cargo operation is estimated to be $4.3 billion.


Geographic facts

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Pierce County Rank in state
Land area, 2010 (square miles) 1,669.5 23
Persons per square mile, 2010 476.3 4



The state, the region and Pierce County all continue to recover from the effects of the Great Recession. In 2010, the unemployment rate in Pierce County began a steady decline and job growth has continued to improve. Since then, total nonfarm employment has grown by 9.5 percent with the private sector growing by 12.9 percent. Government, which accounted for 19.1 percent of total employment in 2015, has declined by 3.0 percent over this five year period.

Pierce County will continue to benefit from its economic ties to King County and other areas. Orders for new aircraft continue to flow to Boeing and that should keep the Pierce County affiliations busy. In 2014, approximately 32.4 percent of all earnings by residents of the county came from working at jobs outside the county. Likewise, 18.4 of the earnings provided by Pierce County employers went to non-residents of the county. From 2010 through 2014, taxable sales for all industries has grown by 12.0 percent.

Like all counties throughout the state, government is an important part of the local economy and is a significant employer. Budget cuts at the state level have affected many industries. However, the year 2016 promises to be a growth year for new and expanding businesses, employment and real estate in the greater Pierce County area. Overall, the Pierce County labor market in 2016 is expected to look much better than 2014 or 2013. Employment growth is expected to be positive, with a 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.

The size of the Pierce County labor force in 2015 was 390,246, up 6,087 from 384,158 in 2014 (1.6 percent). The number of residents employed increased by 9,099 (2.6 percent) and the number unemployed declined by 3,012 (-10.8 percent).

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 average annual unemployment rate reached a high of 8.2 percent in 2003. The 2007 recession pushed the average annual unemployment rate to 10.4 percent in 2010.

The 2015 average annual unemployment rate estimate is 6.4 percent, down from 7.3 percent in 2014. The unemployment rate should remain between 6 and 7 percent in 2016.


Industry employment

(Source: Employment Security Department)

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

Pierce County total nonfarm employment bottomed out from the effects of the recession in 2010 and has continued expanding through 2015. There was an increase of 7,300 jobs over the year, a 2.5 percent increase in nonfarm payrolls. This was similar to the statewide increase of 2.8. The private sector gained 3.2 percent while the public sector dropped 0.1 percent. There was strong growth in construction (5.8 percent), trade, transportation, and utilities (4.9 percent), professional and business services (7.4 percent) and leisure and hospitality (4.5 percent) in 2015.

  • Pierce County had 296,300 nonfarm jobs on average in 2015, making it the state’s second largest labor market behind King County.
  • Most of the jobs in Pierce County are private sector jobs, which made up 80.9 percent of all total nonfarm jobs in 2015.
  • Retail and wholesale trade employment accounted for 16.7 percent of nonfarm jobs in Pierce County. The goods producing sector, which includes construction, accounted for 12.5 percent of nonfarm jobs in 2015.

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 2014, the largest jobholder age group in Pierce County was the 55 and older age category, making up 22.5 percent of jobs across all industries. The next largest share is among persons aged 45 to 54 with 22.4 percent of jobs.

Males held 47.8 percent of jobs and females held 52.2 percent of jobs in 2014.

  • Male-dominated industries included mining (88.2 percent), construction (81.4 percent) and manufacturing (76.3 percent).
  • Female-dominated industries included healthcare and social assistance (78.4 percent), educational services (71.8 percent) and finance and insurance (69.7 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 277,862 jobs in Pierce County covered by unemployment insurance, with a total payroll of more than $12.6 billion.

The average annual wage in 2014 was $45,299, below the state’s average annual wage of $55,003.

The median hourly wage in 2014 was $20.72, which surpasses the state’s median hourly wage of $19.85 when King County is excluded, but falls below the state’s median hourly wage of $22.61 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 2010-2014, the per capita personal income was $43,613, less than the state ($49,610) and the nation ($46,049). It ranks 7th among Washington state counties in per capita personal income.

The median household income in Pierce County was $59,711 in 2010-2014. This figure was below the median household income of the state ($60,294) and above the nation’s ($53,482).

In 2010-2014, 13.1 percent of the population of Pierce County was living below the poverty level, compared to the state at 13.2 percent and the nation (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)

Pierce County’s population in 2014 was 831,928. The population grew by 4.6 percent from 2010, slower than the statewide rate of 5.0 percent.

The largest city in Pierce County is Tacoma with 205,159 residents. Its rate of population growth since 2010 is 3.4 percent.

Population facts

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Pierce County Washington state
Population 2014 831,928 7,061,530
Population 2010 795,229 6,724,543
Percent change, 2010 to 2014 4.6% 5.0%

Age, gender and ethnicity

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Pierce County had proportionately more young people (below the age of 18) and fewer older residents (65 and older) than the state in 2014.

  • Pierce County had 6.9 percent of its population under the age of 5 years compared to the state’s share of 6.3 percent.
  • Those under the age of 18 made up 24.0 percent of Pierce County’s population compared to 22.7 percent of the state’s population.
  • The oldest age group, those 65 and older, made up 12.7 percent of Pierce County’s population compared to 14.1 percent of the state’s population.

Females made up 50.3 percent of the population in Pierce County compared with 50.0 percent of the population in Washington state.

Pierce County has been becoming more diverse along racial and ethnic lines. Black residents made up 7.4 percent of Pierce County’s total population compared to 4.1 percent of the state’s population.


(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Pierce County Washington state
Population by age, 2014
Under 5 years old 6.9% 6.3%
Under 18 years old 24.0% 22.7%
65 years and older 12.7% 14.1%
Females, 2014 50.3% 50.0%
Race/ethnicity, 2014
White 76.1% 80.7%
Black 7.4% 4.1%
American Indian, Alaskan Native 1.7% 1.9%
Asian, Native Hawaiian, Other Pacific Islander 8.1% 8.9%
Hispanic or Latino, any race 10.2% 12.2%

Educational attainment

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Most Pierce County residents age 25 and older were high school graduates (90.5 percent) over the period of 2010-2014, which is about the same as the state average (90.2 percent) and above the national average (86.3 percent).

Of Pierce County residents age 25 and older, 24.2 percent hold bachelor’s degree or higher compared with the state average of 32.3 percent and the national average of 29.3 over the same time period.