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Whitman County Profile

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


Regional context

Whitman County was carved out of Stevens County in 1871 and covers 2,159.09 square miles of land, ranking 10th in size among Washington’s 39 counties. Whitman County was named after Marcus Whitman, an early pioneering missionary in the western states. The county is part of the Palouse region with wide and rolling landscapes. Located in southeastern Washington, it borders seven Washington counties and three Idaho counties. And is ranked 26th in population with a population density of 20.7 people per square mile.

The county is mostly agricultural land that’s specialized in farming barley, wheat, dry peas, and lentils. Pullman is the largest city mainly due to its Washington State University student population. The county seat is at Colfax, the 2nd largest city.

Local economy

The largest employer Washington State University (WSU) conducts transformational research and provides world-class education to more than 26,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. Founded in 1890 in Pullman, it is Washington’s original land-grant university with a mission of improving quality of life. Thirty percent of county employment is at WSU.

Agriculture continues to play an oversized role, not in terms of total employment, but in terms of economic impact. This fact is especially prescient as wheat prices are much higher than average. High prices for wheat positively impacts wholesale sales, retail sales and the overall level of money flowing through the economy.

Traditionally, employment in Whitman County tends to grow at a very slow and steady rate. Much of this trend is due to government employment’s dominant share of total employment. Interestingly, the relative size of government employment has shrunk as other industries have increased their total number of jobs. For the last 5 years, manufacturing employment has grown. This trend towards greater diversification is a welcome change as continued budgetary constraints are expected to impact government employment over the next few years.


Geographic facts

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Whitman County Rank in state
Land area, 2010 (square miles) 2,159.09 10
Persons per square mile, 2010 20.7 26



Wheat is in high demand and continues to be very profitable. Commodities across most markets have continued to benefit from changing levels of global trade, demand and monetary valuations and are currently positively impacting wheat producers.

Export-related manufacturing and technical educational services are a source of positive growth for the economy. As overall economic conditions improve around the world, this will become an area of greater strength and diversity.

Agriculture employment is expected to continue its very slow growth in terms of jobs, as wheat production continues to become more mechanized.

The big unknown continues to be the total impact that state budget shortfalls will have on employment at Washington State University. So far, the decline in employment has been fairly small compared to total employment, but at this time, more cuts are expected along with increased tuition to address longer term funding reductions.

According to nonfarm employment projections for Workforce Development Area 10, which includes Whitman County and nine other counties, average annual growth is expected to be at 1.3 percent from 2010 to 2015 and 1.1 percent from 2015 to 2020.

Labor force and unemployment

(Source: Employment Security Department)

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

Civilian labor force for the first two quarters of 2013 averaged 21,960 in Whitman County, which was above the same period a year ago of 21,537. The number employed was also marginally up to 20,588 in the first half of 2013 compared to the first half of 2012 (20,135). Yearly averages in the labor force show stability in local employment, which is associated with the government economic base.

The average annual unemployment rate in Whitman County is always one of the lowest in the state with a ten year low in 2007 at 3.8 percent before it peaked in 2010 at 6.8 percent. The unemployment rate fluctuates throughout the year, reflecting seasonal changes in higher education employment. The first two quarter average for 2013 was 6.2 percent.


Industry employment

(Source: Employment Security Department)

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

Nonfarm employment in the county grew continuously at the rate of 1.4 percent a year from 2001 through 2008, but due to wide spread effects of the Great Recession employment declined in 2009. Nonetheless, county employment started recovering in 2010 following national and state trends. The county posted a loss of payroll jobs in 2012 mainly due to Government/Education layoffs. However, nonfarm employment in the county is increasing in the first half of 2013 averaging 21,210.

  • Goods-producing employment in 2012 increased to 2,680, an increase of 230 jobs all from the manufacturing sector. The average annual growth rate for this industry for the past five years was 8.1 percent. Construction activities were fairly stable over the past couple years, while manufacturing was expanding at just over 11 percent a year.
  • Service-providing employment averaged 17,930 in 2012, down 420 jobs from 2011. Whitman County service-providing employment is 87 percent of total employment, transportation and utilities (mainly retail trade) make up 12 percent, 3 percent is information and financial activities and 64 percent is government employment.
  • Government employment due to a concentration of higher education averaged 7,685 in 2012, which was up 19 from 2011.

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:

Whitman County jobholders in 2011 were almost equally distributed between three major age groups. The 45 to 54 year-olds had the highest share of 21.8 percent of the workforce. Age groups 25 to 34 accounted for 21.1 percent of employment and 55 or older made up 20.7 percent of employment.

In 2011, 51.1 percent of all industry jobs were held by men and 48.9 percent were held by women. Industry differences are discussed below:

  • Male-dominated industries included agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting (88.2 percent), construction (87.9 percent), wholesale trade (81.1 percent), transportation and warehousing (78.7 percent) and utilities (76.8 percent).
  • Female-dominated industries included healthcare and social assistance (78.8 percent), management of companies and enterprises (70.9 percent), finance and insurance (68.2 percent), other services (64.5 percent), and professional, scientific, and technical services (57.5 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 2012, Whitman County had 17,293 jobs covered by unemployment insurance, with a total payroll of over $682.6 million.

The county annual average wage was $39,474 in 2012, which is well below the state’s average annual wage of $51,964. In 2012, Whitman County ranked 13th for average annual wages among 39 counties in the state.

The Whitman County median hourly wage was $19.20 in 2011, which was below the state’s median hourly wage 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 per capita income in Whitman County was $30,379, which is up 8.4 percent from 2009 income of $27,846. Nonetheless, income was well below the state’s per capita income of $43,879 according to Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Median household income over the period period 2007 to 2011 was $35,409, well below the state’s $58,890, according to the U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts.

Over the period 2007 to 2011, 30.3 percent of the population was living below the poverty level in Whitman County. This is well above 12.5 percent for the state and 14.3 percent for the nation.



(Source: U.S. Census Bureau)

Whitman County estimated population in 2013 was 46,000. Population growth in Whitman County for the past twenty years has been at 0.8 percent, the last ten years population grew by 1.2 percent a year. Population in the county is expected to continue growing for the next ten years at 0.7 percent a year.

The Whitman County seat is Colfax with population of 2,780.The largest city is Pullman with population of 30,990 or 67.4 percent of the total population in 2013.

Population facts

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Whitman County Washington state
Population 2013 46,000 6,882,400
Population 2010 44,776 6,724,540
Percent change, last 10 years 1.2% 12.2%

Age, gender and ethnicity

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Whitman County’s population, due to the higher education industry concentration, is relatively young with 45.5 percent of the population between the ages of 15 to 24.

  • Whitman County’s population age 60 and older was 12.2 percent in 2012 compared to the state’s 19.1 percent.

Females’ made up 49.1 percent of the county’s population, which is slightly below the state’s 50.2 percent.

Diversity in the county is at 84.6 percent white being white persons not Hispanics, and with 4.6 percent persons of Hispanics or Latino origin when compared to the state’s 77.3 percent and 11.2 percent, respectively.


(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Whitman County Washington state
Population by age, 2012    
Under 5 years old 4.0% 6.4%
Under 20 years old 31.0% 25.7%
60 years and older 12.2% 19.1%
Females, 2012 49.0% 50.1%
Race/ethnicity, 2012
White 85.2% 81.6%
Black 2.0% 3.9%
American Indian, Alaskan Native 0.7% 1.8%
Asian, Native Hawaiian, Other Pacific Islander 8.3% 8.4%
Hispanic or Latino, any race 5.1% 11.7%

Educational attainment

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

According to the Census estimates, over the period 2007 to 2011 for Whitman County, 95.8 percent of individuals age 25 and older were high school graduates, which was much higher than that of Washington state (89.7 percent) and the nation (85.4 percent).

An estimated 48.1 percent of people in Whitman County 25 and older have attained a bachelor’s degree or higher. This figure compares favorably with the state (31.4 percent) or nation (28.2 percent).