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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 27,000 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 development in county employment.


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



Agriculture employment is expected to continue its very slow growth in terms of jobs, as wheat production continues to become more mechanized. Wheat is in high demand and continues to be very profitable. However, county yields for the 2014 crop are down. Lower moisture and a very hot summer are to blame.

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.

Employment at Washington State University continues to recover. Student enrollments keep increasing and the university added a new College of Medical Sciences to go along with the Colleges of Nursing and Pharmacy.

Labor force and unemployment

(Source: Employment Security Department)

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

The civilian labor force for the first seven months of 2014 averaged 20,290 in Whitman County, which was below the same period a year ago of 20,856. The number employed was also slightly down. Employment in Whitman County is very seasonal. Most of the decrease was seasonal and should change to increases in the second half of 2014.

The average annual unemployment rate in Whitman County is always one of the lowest in the state. The unemployment rate fluctuates throughout the year, reflecting its seasonal changes in higher education employment. In the first seven months of 2014 it averaged 5.8 percent.


Industry employment

(Source: Employment Security Department)

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

Nonfarm employment in the county started recovering from the national recession in 2011 following national and state trends. The increases have been modest.

  • Goods-producing employment decreased in 2014, in both construction and manufacturing jobs but planned expansions in manufacturing will increase manufacturing jobs in the second half of 2014 and on into 2015.
  • Service-providing employment increased in the first half of 2014 by 270. The hot employment sectors were health care and education.

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 2012 were almost equally distributed between three major age groups. The 45 to 54 year-olds had 20.9 percent of the employment. The age group 25 to 34 accounted for 20.8 percent of employment, while 55 and older made up 21.0 percent of employment.

In 2012, 51.7 percent of all industry jobs were held by men and 48.3 percent were held by women. Industry differences are discussed below:

  • Male-dominated industries included agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting (87.6 percent), construction (88.6 percent), wholesale trade (81.3 percent), transportation and warehousing (77.8 percent) and utilities (74.72 percent).
  • Female-dominated industries included healthcare and social assistance (78.1 percent), finance and insurance (68.7 percent) and other services (63.2 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 2013, Whitman County had 17,469 jobs covered by unemployment insurance, with a total payroll of over $712.5 million.

The county annual average wage was $40,787 in 2013, which is well below the state’s average annual wage of $53,029. In 2013, Whitman County ranked 12th for average annual wages among 39 counties in the state.

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 2012 the per capita income in Whitman County was $33,356, below the state’s per capita income of $46,045 according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Median household income over the period 2008 to 2012 was $34,169, well below the state’s $59,374, according to the U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts.

Over the period 2008 to 2012, 32.3 percent of the population was living below the poverty level in Whitman County. This is well above 12.9 percent for the state.



(Source: U.S. Census Bureau)

Whitman County’s estimated population in 2013 was 46,570. Population growth in Whitman County since 2010 was 4.0 percent, a slight increase over the state’s growth of 3.7 percent.

The largest city in the county is Pullman with population of 31,395.

Population facts

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Whitman County Washington state
Population 2013 46,570 6,971,406
Population 2010 44,776 6,724,540
Percent change, 2010 - 2013 4.0% 3.7%

Age, gender and ethnicity

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Whitman County’s population, due to the higher education industry concentration, is relatively young.

The county’s population age 65 and older was 9.8 percent in 2013 compared to the state’s 13.6 percent.

Diversity in the county is near state averages.


(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Whitman County Washington state
Population by age, 2013    
5 years and under 4.5% 6.4%
18 years and under 15.0% 22.9%
65 years and older 9.8% 13.6%
Females, 2013 49.1% 50.0%
Race/ethnicity, 2013
White 85.2% 71.2%
Black 2.1% 4.0%
American Indian, Alaskan Native 0.7% 1.9%
Asian, Native Hawaiian, Other Pacific Islander 8.1% 8.6%
Hispanic or Latino, any race 5.4% 11.9%

Educational attainment

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

According to Census estimates, for the period 2008 to 2012 in Whitman County, 96.2 percent of individuals age 25 and older were high school graduates, which was much higher than that of Washington state (90.0 percent).

An estimated 48.8 percent of people in Whitman County 25 and older have attained a bachelor’s degree or higher. This figure compares favorably with the state (31.6 percent).