Building an Economy that Works for Everyone

The State of Working Washington 2007

Washington has enjoyed three years of strong job growth, but the effects of recession continue to linger for many families. While we are much further along the path of recovery than the country as a whole, population growth since 2000 has outstripped the supply of newly created jobs. Moreover, the benefits of recent growth are not equitably distributed. Many families are still pinched – even in the midst of a growing economy.

Key findings:


  • Jobs are growing across regions of the state and sectors of the economy. Health services, information, restaurants, construction, business and professional services, and even Washington’s much-battered manufacturing sector are all adding jobs.
  • Growth since 2004 has not made up for the three-year job slump that started in 2001. Although the state added about 80,000 jobs in both 2005 and 2006, we needed an additional 128,000 jobs to employ the same percentage of the working age population in 2006 as in 2000.
  • The mix of jobs in the state has changed since 1990, with manufacturing falling from 16% to 10% of all non-farm jobs. Professional and business services, health services, construction, information, and leisure and hospitality have added to their share of jobs.

Income and Benefits

  • Hourly wages for middle and high earners in Washington rose in 2005 and 2006, but stagnated or declined for lower income earners.
  • After significant real gains during the 1990s, average monthly earnings for Washington men actually declined between 2000 and 2005, and have held steady for women.
  • Median household incomes in Washington fell with the recession, but began rising again in 2002.  In 2006, the state median annual income was $52,583, 13th highest among the states and $4,000 higher than the national level.
  • In 2006, employers were less likely to provide every type of benefit, from health insurance to paid leave to a retirement plan, than at the start of the decade.

Gender Disparities

  • Women now make up 49% of the state workforce, but sectors of the economy are still sharply segregated. Construction and manufacturing remain predominately male, while health, educational, and financial services are heavily female.
  • Men typically earn far more than women. The median hourly wage for Washington men in 2006 was $18.54, compared to $14.38 for women. Men aged 35 to 44 earn on average $1,834 more per month than women of the same age range. Among full-time, year-round workers in the state, men earn $12,000 more annually than women.
  • Men typically see large gains in earnings between the ages of 25 and 44, while women on average realize only modest boosts in income during this phase of life.
  • Despite the media attention to the so-called “opting out” by American women, far more men have left the workforce. From the late 1990s to 2006, the labor force participation rate of Washington men dropped by 6.1%, while the rate for women declined by 3.5%. Since 1979, men’s labor force participation rate has declined by 7.7% while women’s has increased by 14.2%.

National Comparisons

  • Incomes are generally higher in Washington than the national average, while poverty, child poverty, and the percentage of workers earning poverty wages are lower.
  • In Washington, 20% of workers belonged to a union in 2006, compared to 12% in the U.S. And bucking the national trend, unionization rates in the state have gone up since 2000.
  • In Washington, 11.8% of residents lacked health insurance in 2006, compared to 15.8% in the U.S.  While the ranks of the uninsured have risen nationally since 2003, they have declined in Washington. Still, 752,000 Washingtonians of all ages and 119,000 children (6.9% of children in the state) are without health insurance.
  • Among private sector workers, 49% in Washington have a workplace-based retirement plan, compared to 44% in the U.S.

Washington has a long history of public policy that promotes high-road development. The economy  is doing better here than in the United States as a whole, and working families in the state are  benefiting more from economic growth than their counterparts elsewhere. There still remains a great deal of work to do in building a state economy where economic security and opportunity are  available to all.

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