Lewis County profile

Washington state map with Lewis county highlightedby Jim Vleming, regional labor economist - updated January, 2018

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


Regional context

Lewis County, located in southwestern Washington, is the sixth largest county in the state. The Chehalis and Cowlitz rivers are the two major rivers in the county. Lewis, named for Meriwether Lewis, was created as a county in 1845. Its original borders encompassed half of Washington state and British Columbia. The Chehalis and Meshall tribal people inhabited this area prior to white explorers and settlers, but their numbers were decimated by disease. Many of these settlers worked in the trading posts as well as the Hudson Bay commercial farm that provided the trading posts.

Local economy

Once the railroad was established, logging and milling attracted immigrants and in-migrants. Labor organizers were outraged by the unsafe working conditions and low wages in this industry. In 1919, a gun battle erupted between members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and some World War I veterans and is known as the “Centralia Massacre”.

The 1920s brought hard times to Lewis before the Great Depression took hold. World War II increased the demand for wood and farm products, lifting the Lewis County economy again. Its economy has continued boom and bust cycles over its history.

Geographic facts

Lewis County Rank in state
 Land area, 2010 (square miles) 2,402.8 
 People per square mile, 2010 31.4  22 

U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

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The recession was difficult on the Lewis county economy as nonfarm payrolls dropped and double digit unemployment rates were the rule rather than the exception. Now, nearly 10 years removed from the downturn, nonfarm payrolls are expanding and the unemployment rate in the county is lower than ever before. New found optimism has spurred development and job creation in construction, trade and leisure and hospitality.

Labor force and unemployment

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

Annual average unemployment in Lewis County has been declining since the 13.3 percent rate posted in 2009. The 2016 average rate came in at 8.1 percent. The first nine months of 2017 show an 6.7 percent average. As we close out the year, unemployment will show a seasonally increase as winter’s hold grips the economy. But that increase in unemployment will be far less steep than years previous.

After several years of a declining labor force, that trend seems to be coming to an end as the labor force in the county has grown over the last couple of years. The gain in labor force may be an indicator of renewed faith in the local economy and a more positive job market.

(Source: Employment Security Department)

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Industry employment

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

In Lewis County, job numbers are improving but the magnitude of this improvement has been weak. Specifically, there were on average 25,610 nonfarm jobs in the county in the first eleven months of 2017 compared to 23,620 in 2010.

The goods-producing sector employed 4,720 through November 2017. Manufacturing and construction are both up slightly from their 2016 totals.

The service-providing sector gained over 1,000 jobs from 2016 to 2017. Government employment was up by 130 jobs.

  • Trade, transportation, warehousing and utilities combined gained over 400 jobs, with retail trade gaining nearly 100.

  • Private education and health services gained 100 jobs.

  • The leisure and hospitality segment gained 140.

  • Professional and business services added 300 new positions.

The first eleven months of 2017 show the trade and government sectors as the two largest employers in the county, with educational and health services a close third.

For historical industry employment data, contact an economist.

(Source: Employment Security Department)

Industry employment by age and gender

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 2016, the largest jobholder age group in Lewis County was the 55 and older age category, making up 25.9 percent of employment across all industries. The next largest share was among persons aged 45 to 54 with 20.9 percent of employment.

  • In 2016, the county’s workers mirrored state patterns with workers ages 14 to 24 dominating the accommodation and food services jobs in the county with over 31.4 percent of the positions. This age group was also well represented in arts, entertainment and recreation and retail trade.

  • Workers in the 55 year and older age category were prevalent in mining, educational services, transportation and warehousing, real estate and rental and leasing, public administration and utilities

Females made up 49.8 percent of the labor force in Lewis County with males making up the difference at 50.2 percent in 2016. Men were more often represented in higher paying industries.

  • Male-dominated industries included mining, construction, manufacturing and utilities.

  • Female-dominated industries included finance and insurance, healthcare and social assistance and educational service.

(Source: The Local Employment Dynamics)

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Wages and income

In 2016, there were 24,680 jobs covered by unemployment insurance in Lewis County, with a total payroll of over $962.8 million.

Lewis County’s private sector average annual wage in 2016 was $39,000, below the state’s average.

The median hourly wage in 2016 was $19.32 below the state’s median hourly wage of $23.91 and the state excluding King County median hourly wage of $20.68.

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.

Personal income in 2015 lagged both the state and nation as Lewis County’s per capita personal income was $37,486. The U.S. average was $48,112 and the state average was $51,898. Lewis County ranked 30th in the state in per capita personal income in 2014.

The median household income in Lewis County was $47,955 in 2015 dollars according to U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts. The county’s median was less than the state’s ($61,817) and the nation’s ($56,709).

Over the period of 2015, 14.3 percent of the Lewis County’s population was living below the poverty level, compared to 12.2 percent in the state and 14.7 percent in the nation. The state and national rates are not directly comparable to the county rate because they each use different data sources.

(Source: Employment Security Department; Bureau of Labor Statistics; Bureau of Economic Analysis; U.S. Census Bureau; U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey)

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The Lewis County population has grown 2.1 percent since 2010. The largest city is Centralia, with a 2016 population of 16,982.

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau)

Population facts

Lewis County Washington state
 Population 2016 77,066  7,288,000 
 Population 2010 75,457  6,724,545 
 Percent change, 2010 to 2016 2.1%  8.4% 

Age, gender and ethnicity

When compared with the state, the Lewis County population is somewhat older, although it has a similar gender ratio. Far more residents identify themselves as white when compared to the state and most other groups represent a lower proportion of the county population compared to the state as well.


Lewis County Washington state
 Population by age, 2016
Under 5 years old 5.7%  6.2% 
Under 18 years old 21.6%  22.4% 
65 years and older 20.8%  14.8% 
 Females, 2016 49.9%  50.0% 
 Race/ethnicity, 2016
White 92.6%  80.0% 
Black 0.8%  4.1% 
American Indian, Alaskan Native 1.9%  1.9% 
Asian, Native Hawaiian, other Pacific Islander 1.4%  9.4% 
Hispanic or Latino, any race 10.1%  12.4% 

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Educational attainment

Most Lewis County residents age 25 and older (87.1 percent) were high school graduates, which compares with 90.6 percent of Washington state’s residents and 87.0 percent of U.S. residents in the period 2012-2016.

Those with a bachelor’s degree or higher made up 15.5 percent of Lewis County residents age 25 and older compared to 33.6 percent of state residents and 30.3 percent of U.S. residents during the same period.

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Useful links

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