King County profile

by Anneliese Vance-Sherman, Ph.D., regional labor economist - updated September 2016

Overview | Geographic facts | Outlook | Labor force and unemployment | Industry employment | Wages and income | Population | Useful links


Regional context

King County’s current boundaries situate it between Puget Sound to the west and the crest line of the Cascade Range to the east. It borders Snohomish County to the north and Pierce County to the south. King County is very geographically diverse, with points at sea level and a high point of nearly 8,000 feet. The human geography of King County is also diverse; characterized by high-density urbanization along the shores of Puget Sound, suburban communities to the east of Lake Washington, rural communities to the southeast and remote towns in the Cascade foothills. There are 39 towns and cities located in King County.

King County and Seattle, the county seat, are the most populous county and city in Washington state, respectively. King County ranks 11th in the state in terms of total land area and first in the state for population density.

King County is the central county in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), consisting of King, Pierce and Snohomish County, belongs to the Seattle-Bellevue-Everett Metropolitan Division (MD), and is part of the nine-county Seattle-Tacoma Primary Metropolitan Statistical Area (PMSA).

Local economy

European-American settlement of the area now known as King County began in the 1840s. Natural resources—especially timber--played a major role in King County’s early history. Maritime trade spurred the development and growth of Seattle, which was established in 1869. Seattle became an important stopping point for those hoping to prospect for gold in Alaska and the Yukon Territory at the close of the 19th century.

The early 20th century was a time of population growth and industrial diversification. In more recent decades, the regional economy became highly dependent on the aerospace industry which was centered on the Boeing Company.

Throughout the 1990s, the county underwent extraordinary gains in employment, population and wages. Despite the county’s increasing cost of living, especially in housing, the high-tech job boom lured well-educated newcomers to the area. King County continues to hold a strong national reputation as a hub for information technology development.

In 2005, the county was renamed in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The area is culturally diverse and aims to be a place where people from a variety of backgrounds can feel at home. King County has an active port, maintaining extensive connections to East Asian markets.

In 2008, King County employment reached a peak in excess of 1.2 million jobs and then fell rapidly into recession with the rest of the nation. From 2008 to 2010, average employment plummeted by about 6 percent, with the loss of approximately 79,000 jobs. King County has led the statewide economic recovery since turning the corner in 2010. Today, King County accommodates more than 1.31 million jobs and is characterized by a very diverse labor market.

Major industry sectors in King County supplying more than 100,000 estimated jobs include professional and business services, government, education and health services, retail trade, leisure and hospitality and manufacturing.

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Geographic facts

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

King County Rank in state
 Land area, 2010 (square miles) 2,115.6  11 
 Persons per square mile, 2016 995.05 

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The financial crash and most recent national recession struck King County later than other areas. Once the crisis hit, the county suffered harsh losses, particularly in industries such as construction.

Six years into the economic recovery, King County is relatively well-situated. The recovery has looked very different depending on location, and King County has been at the center of the statewide recovery since turning the corner in 2010. King County employment numbers matched the pre-recession peak in 2013 and have continued to increase since then. All major industry sectors have experienced positive employment growth, albeit to varying degrees. Industries reporting the largest proportional post-recession gains (2010 to 2015) include construction, retail trade and professional and business services. The largest absolute gains were observed in professional and business services and retail trade.

King County’s early recovery was driven in large part by employment growth in manufacturing and professional and business services. As the recovery has matured, growth has been concentrated in professional and business services, construction and retail trade.

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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.

King County’s 2015 labor force was nearly 1.20 million, with an average annual unemployment rate of 4.6 percent. Within this estimate, about 1.14 million county residents were counted among the employed and more than 54 thousand were counted among the unemployed.

The unemployment rate in King County had been steadily declining since reaching a peak level of 9.5 percent in early 2010, but increased in 2015 relative to 2014. Throughout the recession and recovery, King County’s unemployment rate has been lower than that of Washington state. As of July 2016, the not seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in King County was 4.4 percent.

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Industry employment

(Source: Employment Security Department)

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

King County is the largest labor market in the state. In 2015, nearly 42 percent of all nonfarm jobs in Washington state were reported from King County-located businesses.

King County averaged approximately 1.31 million nonfarm jobs in 2015. From 2014 to 2015, average annual employment increased by an estimated 39,000 jobs or 3.1 percent. By comparison, Washington state as a whole saw the addition of about 86,000 jobs over the same time period; an increase of 2.8 percent.

  • Goods-producing industries supplied an average of 174,400 jobs in 2015, making up a little more than 13 percent of the total count of nonfarm jobs. Over the year, employment rose by 6,100 or 3.6 percent.
    • Employers in the construction industry added 6,100 jobs (10.1 percent) from 2014 to 2015. The construction industry is expected to continue to experience high growth into the future, due to pent up demand during the recent recession.
    • Manufacturing lost 100 jobs or 0.1 percent over the year. Hiring in manufacturing has slowed substantially over the past couple years.
  • Service-providing employment accounted for nearly 87 percent of all nonfarm jobs in King County in 2015. From 2014 to 2015, service-providing industries collectively added 33,300 jobs or 3.0 percent.
    • Average annual employment in all major service-providing industries expanded from 2014 to 2015. The largest year-to-year employment gains were made in professional and business services, retail trade and education and health services.
      • Professional and business services, which includes everything from landscaping services to administrative services to computer systems design, added 8,200 jobs or 4.0 percent.
      • Retail trade added about 5,800 jobs in 2015—an increase of 5.8 percent.
      • Leisure and hospitality added about 5,100 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:

King County has a young workforce, relative to the rest of Washington state. In 2015, workers age 25 to 44 made up 47.0 percent of the workforce. For comparison, the statewide proportion of workers age 25 to 44 was 44.0 percent. The proportion of workers younger than age 24 as well as those age 55 and older in King County is lower than observed statewide.

In 2015, men held 52.3 percent and women held 47.7 percent of the jobs in King County. There were substantial differences in gender dominance by industry.

  • The most male-dominated industries included mining (88.5 percent), construction (81.0 percent), agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting (73.5 percent), manufacturing (71.1 percent), information (67.5 percent) and transportation and warehousing (67.0 percent).
  • The most female-dominated industries included healthcare and social assistance (74.4 percent), educational services (66.3 percent), other services (57.5 percent) and finance and insurance (57.3 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 2015, there were more than 1.27 million jobs covered by unemployment insurance, with a total payroll of approximately $92.3 billion.

The 2015 average annual wage was $72,455.

The median hourly wage in 2013 was $28.94, above the state’s median hourly wage of $23.15.

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 2014, per capita personal income was $68,877, more than the state ($49,610) and the nation ($46,049).

According to the American Community Survey, the median household income was $75,834 in 2014. The county’s median was greater than the state ($61,366) and the nation ($53,657).

In 2014, 11.2 percent of the population residing in King County was living below the poverty level, lower than the state at 13.2 percent. Of King County’s children under 18, 13.6 percent were living below the poverty level, compared to the state’s 17.5 percent.

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(Source: U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis; Washington of Financial Management)

King County’s estimated population was a little more than 2.1 million in 2016. The county’s population grew at a faster rate (14.1 percent) than the state (11.2 percent) over the most recent decade. Over the past year, King County’s population growth rate was more than double that of the state. From 2015 to 2016, the total King County population expanded by 2.5 percent compared to 1.1 percent for Washington state as a whole.

The largest city in King County is Seattle (686,800 in 2016, up 18.8 percent in 10 years). Other large cities include Bellevue, Kent, Renton, Federal Way and Kirkland.

Population facts

(Source: U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis; Washington Office of Financial Management)

King County Washington state
 Population 2016 2,105,100  7,140,098 
 Population 2006 1,845,208  6,420,266 
 Percent change, 2006 to 2016 14.1%  11.2% 

Age, gender and ethnicity

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

The age distribution of King County residents compared to the state and the nation reflects a large working-age adult population and smaller resident populations at either end of the age spectrum. Residents age 25 to 54 have a proportionally high presence in King County, while residents age 0 to 24 and 55+ have a less prominent presence relative to shares seen at the state and national levels. The population distribution by age is expected to smooth over time, as the millennial generation ages.

King County has proportionally larger Black and Asian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander populations than the state as a whole, but a smaller Hispanic or Latino presence.


(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

King County Washington state
 Population by age, 2015
Under 5 years old 6.1%  6.2% 
Under 18 years old 20.7%  22.5% 
65 years and older 12.4%  14.4% 
 Females, 2015 50.0%  50.0% 
 Race/ethnicity, 2015
White 69.5%  80.3% 
Black 6.8%  4.1% 
American Indian, Alaskan Native 1.1%  1.9% 
Asian, Native Hawaiian, other Pacific Islander 16.9%  8.4% 
Hispanic or Latino, any race 9.5%  12.4% 

Educational attainment

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Overall, King County has a more highly-educated population than the state or the nation.

Over ninety-two percent of King County residents age 25 and older graduated from high school, which is quite a bit higher than with 90.4 percent of Washington state residents and 86.9 percent of U.S. residents.

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Useful links

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