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Thurston County Profile

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


Regional context

Thurston County is located on the southern end of Puget Sound in Western Washington, referred to as the South Sound. It is the seventh smallest county in the state, but the sixth most populous with 349.4 persons per square mile.

Forbes Magazine has ranked Thurston County as one of the top places in the nation to do business for the past two years. The ranking acknowledges the county’s favorable performance in the areas of cost of living, job growth, recreational and cultural opportunities and educational attainment.

Local economy

Thurston County was carved out of Lewis County in 1852, named after Samuel R. Thurston, the first delegate to Congress from the Oregon Territory, which later became Washington. The county seat is Olympia, the state capital and the largest city in the county. In 1851, Olympia became the port of entry for Puget Sound. A year later, it became the county seat.

Native Americans date back to roughly 3,000 years ago. Nisqually and Squaxon tribes established themselves in this area. In 1833, the first Europeans settled in the area, and in 1845, the first white American settlers arrived.

Lumber and coal and sandstone mining were the dominant sources of industry of 19th century Thurston County, and remained so into the 1920s. In 1896, Leopold Schmidt established a brewery that was a significant industry in Tumwater. It operated until Miller closed it in 2003.

State government began to increase its share when the state capitol was completed in 1927. By the 1950s, state government surpassed lumber. Logging mills closed in the 1960s. Thurston County grew rapidly over the decades, fueled by employment in state government and trade. Tribal casinos also took off during this time.

The local economy continues to be driven by government employment as 36 percent of all nonfarm employment can be attributed to state and local government jobs. During the recession, the loss of tax revenues earlier driven by a robust construction sector began to eat into state revenues. The result has been a period of budget constraints and cuts.

Moving forward, much of the budget questions remain unsolved as the state, local municipalities and school districts continue to look for ways to continue doing, at the very least, the same with less.The building construction boom will not return to its previous levels any time soon. So, state revenues will remain under a watchful eye in hopes that other sectors of the economy can help fuel the county’s new growth spurt.


Geographic facts

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Thurston County Rank in State
Land area, 2010 (square miles) 721.96 32
Persons per square mile, 2010 349.4 6



The coming year looks to be one of give-and-take as state budget issues continue to plague employment. With the legislature still in session and a final budget still undecided, many state and local government entities are preparing for the possibility of more cuts.

The private sector will find the going difficult if the construction industry doesn’t begin to add payroll in the spring and summer – something that has been sorely missed as the recession deepened. Look for a mixed bag with retail trade improving slightly and services gaining some ground over the year, but overall the recovery is going to be more of a slog back than a sprint.

Labor force and unemployment

(Source: Employment Security Department)

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

The May 2012 preliminary unemployment rate rose to 8.1 percent, up from 7.5 in April. The May 2011 rate of unemployment was 8.3 percent.

In May 2012 there were 10,670 county residents unemployed as 121,430 received paychecks. That compares to 10,690 unemployed in May 2011 with 118,470 at work. The May 2012 statewide unemployment rate was 8.4 percent.


Industry employment

(Source: Employment Security Department)

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

After 27 straight months of nonfarm employment totaling above 100,000 jobs the county has gone 31 straight months below that figure. The May 2012 preliminary total was 101,300, up from the May 2011 total of 99,000, but only reached that 100,000 mark in April 2012.

Goods-producing employment totaled 7,100 in May 2012, up 200 from May 2011. Service- providing jobs accounted for 94,200 paychecks in May 2012, up 210 from the May 2011 total.

The recession caught up to the government sector leading to the loss of 500 jobs between May 2011 and May 2012. Most of the losses were in state government. By May 2012, preliminary estimates showed 35,800 government employees, down from 36,300 a year earlier.

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 two largest employed age categories were those 45 to 54 years old, with 24.1 percent of the jobs and those 55 and older with 22.6 percent of the jobs.

Men held 44.4 percent of the jobs in the county and women held 55.6 percent of jobs in 2010.

  • Male-dominated industries included mining (86.3 percent), construction (83.1 percent) and manufacturing (75.3 percent).
  • Female-dominated industries included healthcare and social assistance (79.5 percent) and finance and insurance (70.7 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 2011, there were 96,416 covered employment jobs in Thurston County. The total payroll for 2011 was over $4.14 billion dollars.

In 2011, average annual wage was $42,984 compared to the state average of $50,264.

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.

Per capita income in Thurston County in 2010 was $40,736 compared to the state at $42,589 and the nation at $39,937.

Median household income over the period 2006 to 2010 was $60,930, much higher than that of the state ($57,244), according to the U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts.

The percent of the county’s population below the official poverty rate in 2010 was 10.3 percent compared to the state’s rate of 12.1 percent and the nation’s at 13.8 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts.



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

Thurston County’s population in 2010 was 252,264. The growth rate from 2000 to 2010 in Thurston was much faster at 21.7 percent than that of the state at 14.1 percent.

The largest city in the county is Olympia with 46,478 inhabitants, followed by Lacey (42,393) and Tumwater (17,371).

Population facts

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Thurston County Washington State
Population 2010 252,264 6,724,540
Population 2000 207,355 5,894,121
Percent Change, 2000 to 2010 21.7% 14.1%

Age, gender and ethnicity

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Thurston County had an older population than the state reported in 2010. Thurston County’s population of those aged 65 and older was 13 percent compared to the state’s 12.3 percent.

Those under 18 years old, was 23 percent in the county, slightly less than that of the state’s 23.5 percent. The youngest group, those under five years old, made up 6.1 percent of Thurston County’s population compared to the state’s 6.5 percent.

Females made up 51.3 percent of Thurston County’s population, slightly more than that of the state (50.2 percent).

Thurston County showed much less diversity in 2010 than the state in all racial/ethnic categories with whites making up 82.4 percent of its population compared to 77.3 percent of the state’s population. There was 5.3 percent of the county’s population reporting two or more races in 2010 compared to 4.7 percent at the state level. The county’s population also had slightly more native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islanders (0.8 percent) than the state (0.6 percent).


(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Thurston County Washington State
Population by age, 2010
Under 5 years old 6.1% 6.5%
Under 18 years old 23.0% 23.5%
65 years and older 13.0% 12.3%
Females, 2010 51.3% 50.2%
Race/ethnicity, 2010
White 82.4% 77.3%
Black 2.7% 3.6%
American Indian, Alaskan Native 1.4% 1.5%
Asian, Native Hawaiian, Other Pacific Islander 6.0% 7.8%
Hispanic or Latino, any race 7.1% 11.2%

Educational attainment

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Most of Thurston County residents age 25 and older (92.6 percent) were high school graduates, which compares very favorably with 89.6 percent of Washington state’s residents and 85 percent of U.S. residents over the period 2006 to 2010.

Those with a bachelor’s degree or higher made up 31.6 percent of Thurston County residents age 25 and older compared to 31 percent of state residents and 27.9 percent of U.S. residents.