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San Juan County Profile



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

Overview

Regional context


San Juan County in northwest Washington state includes four large islands: San Juan, Orcas, Lopez and Shaw and about 200 smaller islands. San Juan County is the smallest county in Washington by landmass.

San Juan County is located in the Salish Sea to the west of Skagit and Whatcom counties and east of lower Vancouver Island. The islands are spectacularly scenic. Consequently, tourists visit via ferry, private boat and float plane throughout the year, and the county has in turn attracted many retirees. The San Juan’s are regularly reported in lists of America’s most desirable places to live. Today tourism and retirement communities form the economic base of the economy.

Local economy

The Lummi nation tribes were dominant among the earliest San Juan dwellers. British trappers and sheepherders were early settlers in the 1850s, although British and Spanish explorers had explored the islands in the 1700s. The British and the Americans sparred for control of the islands in the 1859 Pig War over the boundary between Canada and the United States. The German Kaiser was asked to arbitrate and decided in favor of the Americans in 1872.

Fishing and farming formed the economic mainstay for most inhabitants until the1970s when tourism took off.  However, some more colorful parts of the economic history of the San Juan includes smuggling, rum running and trade and manufacturing of other illicit commodities.

Due to a large tourism component in the economy, payroll job levels are highly seasonal. Using a 10-year average from 2002 through 2012, the following pattern emerges – peak private nonfarm jobs occurs each year in July and August, with an average gain of about 1,700 jobs (35 percent) from the January low point of the jobs cycle.

Similar to the national economy, San Juan County’s largest job-providing sector is private services, accounting for about a 66.4 percent share of all jobs. In 2012, San Juan County’s largest industries in terms of covered employment were leisure and hospitality (about 25 percent of jobs), government (nearly 19 percent), retail trade (nearly 12 percent) and construction (about 10 percent).

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Geographic facts

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

San Juan County Rank in state
Land area, 2013 (square miles) 173.92 39
Persons per square mile, 2013 92.0 11

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Outlook

From peak-to-trough, Washington state and the United States each lost an estimated 6 percent of their employment base. San Juan County lost nearly 12 percent of all jobs during the recession and did not reach the lowest levels of employment until 2011 – after most other areas had begun to rebound. Annual average employment estimates for 2012 reveal early stages of a recovery for the San Juan Islands. However, year-over-year employment estimates comparing the first several months of 2013 with corresponding months in 2012 reveal that the recovery will continue to be long and drawn out.

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Labor force and unemployment

(Source: Employment Security Department)

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

The dynamics of the labor force in San Juan County are very seasonally sensitive, with peak unemployment rates occurring each year in January and lowest unemployment rates reported each summer during the peak tourism season. The divergence between annual high and low unemployment rates has increased since the start of the recession.

During the recent period of recession and recovery, the peak unemployment rate (10.0 percent) was reached in January 2011. The highest average annual unemployment rate was 7.2 percent in 2010. By 2012, the average annual unemployment rate fell to 6.2 percent. The labor force in 2012 was 8,090. Within this estimate, 7,590 people were employed and 500 were actively looking for work.

San Juan County’s labor force follows the same seasonal trend described above. In a highly-seasonal tourism-driven economy, the labor force swells during the summer months and contracts during off-peak seasons. On an encouraging note, the labor market in San Juan County appears to be expanding from its recessionary slump. The labor force in summer, 2012 was the largest the county has seen since 2008.

The employed in San Juan County also counts those individuals that are self-employed. A source of data on the self employed is available from the US Census through the American Community Survey (ACS) and is available for San Juan County only as an average from 2006-2010. This data breaks down the “civilian employed population 16 years and over” into four mutually exclusive categories: private wage & salary workers (66.4 percent), government workers (13.0 percent), self-employed in own not incorporated business workers (19.8 percent) and unpaid family workers (0.7 percent).

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Industry employment

(Source: Employment Security Department)

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

San Juan County averaged 5,440 jobs in 2012, compared to 5,250 in 2011 – a year-over-year recovery of 3.6 percent. The early months of 2013 do not look optimistic for job year-over-year job creation, but, given the highly-seasonal nature of the San Juan economy, we will have to wait until after the peak tourism season to accurately assess the progress of San Juan County’s recovery to date. The San Juan job market has taken longer than the state or the nation to send out initial green shoots. At this point, the recovery is still fragile and highly dependent on the demand for travel to the San Juans over summer holidays.

  • San Juan County’s goods producing industries are dominated by natural resources, mining and construction. Nationally and locally, the signature of this recession was an exceptionally hard-hit construction industry. San Juan County was no exception. The county’s goods –producing sector shed an estimated 30 percent of all jobs from 2008 to 2012. Although the smaller manufacturing component seems to have reached its low point in 2010, natural resources, mining and construction is continuing to shed jobs into 2013.
  • Service-providing employment in San Juan County hit its lowest point in 2011, after losing nearly 8 percent of jobs counted in 2008. 2012 was not a year of robust growth for service providers and 2013 employment has yet to be seen.

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 2011, the largest 10-year span jobholder age group was those aged 45 to 54, with 23.4 percent of jobs across all industries. The next largest share is among persons aged 55 to 64 with 22.8 percent of jobs.

Males held 45.3 percent of jobs and females held 54.7 percent of jobs in 2011.

  • Male-dominated industries in 2011 included construction (85.2 percent), utilities (66.6 percent) and transportation and utilities (62.5 percent).
  • Female-dominated industries included healthcare and social assistance (83.2 percent), finance and insurance (82.3 percent) and educational services (72.3 percent).
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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, San Juan County averaged 5,201 jobs covered by unemployment insurance, with a payroll of $163.6 million.
  • The county’s 2010 average annual wage was $31,459.
  • In 2011, the county’s median hourly wage was $19.95, lower than the state median 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, the $52,439 per capita personal income in San Juan County was well above both state ($43,878) and U.S. ($41,560) averages. This measure of income places San Juan County as the second highest in the state, just trailing King County.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, San Juan County’s median household income was $51,395, below state ($58,890) and U.S. ($52,762) medians over the period 2007 to 2011.

Over the 2007 to 2011 period, 11.1 percent of the resident population was living below the official poverty line. The statewide average was higher at 12.5 percent, while the national average stood at 16.1 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

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Population

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

The resident population of San Juan County was 16,000 in 2013. Its total growth from 2003 to 2013 was 8.3 percent, lower than the 12.3 percent for the state over the same period.

The only incorporated city in San Juan County is Friday Harbor (population 2,185) in 2013, up 9.9 percent in 10 years.

Population facts

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

San Juan County Washington state
Population 2013 16,000 6,882,400
Population 2003 14,772 6,126,892
Percent change, 2003 to 2013 8.3% 12.3%

Age, gender and ethnicity

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Overall, San Juan County has considerably more individuals age 65 and older (26.3 percent versus 13.2 percent) than the state. It has a lower percentage of those under 18 (about 14.6 percent versus 23.0 percent) than the state in 2012.

Females in the 2010 county population made up 51.5 percent of the estimated count.

San Juan County was far less diverse than Washington State in terms of race and ethnicity with smaller proportions of all racial or ethnic minorities compared to the state. About 95 percent of its population was white in 2012.

Demographics

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

San Juan County Washington state
Population by age, 2012
Under 5 years old 3.2% 6.4%
Under 18 years old 14.6% 23.0%
65 years and older 26.3% 13.2%
Females, 2012 51.5% 50.1%
Race/ethnicity, 2012
White 94.8% 81.6%
Black 0.6% 3.9%
American Indian, Alaskan Native 0.8% 1.8%
Asian, Native Hawaiian, Other Pacific Islander 1.5% 8.4%
Hispanic or Latino, any race 5.6% 11.7%

Educational attainment

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

In 2007-2011, 94.2 percent of San Juan County residents aged 25 and up graduated from high school. This figure compares quite favorably with the state’s 89.8 percent.

In San Juan County, 44.9 percent of its resident population aged 25 and up have a bachelor’s degrees or higher educational attainment. This figure compares very favorably with 31.4 percent for the state.

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