Workforce & Education
Whatcom County, WA

Goal 3: Develop a skilled workforce, expand educational attainment, and align employer needs with educational programs and curriculum.

Education & Degrees

Each graphic with a legend has clickable variables. For example, if you want to see data for a single school district in the graphic above, simply click the districts listed in the legend below the graphic that you do not want displayed. 

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Education data reveals that Whatcom County has a highly educated workforce. According to the ACS (2015-2019) data below, 22.1% of the population has a Bachelor’s degree, 11% have an Associate’s degree, and 11.7% have a graduate or professional degree.

Employment, Industry, and Wages

In Whatcom County there are two primary entities that oversee labor and workforce issues: Washington State Employment Security Department (ESD) and the Northwest Workforce Council (NWC). NWC has authority in Whatcom, Skagit, Island, and San Juan counties and ESD has a dedicated Northwest Washington staff person who covers the same counties. ESD works on a range of issue with a focus on reemployment and job opportunities. 

The graphic below is from ESD and shows many employment statistics, including unemployment rates, nonfarm industry employment, as well as labor participation rates. To make the data specific to Whatcom County, simply select the "Bellingham MSA." This does not limit the data to Bellingham, as a metropolitan service area (MSA) is a census designation and in this case, it covers the entirety of Whatcom County.


Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic Whatcom County’s average annual wage was $49,662 in 2019, which is below the statewide annual average wage of $69,195. In 2018, the county’s median hourly wage was $22.12, which was also lower than the state median of $25.98 per hour (Washington Employment Security Department 2021). 

Wages also differ significantly by occupation. For example, though food preparation and serving related jobs are the second most likely occupation (9,560 workers) in Whatcom County, the wages workers receive in this occupation only averages $15.73 per hour. However, the 1,430 workers in computer and math occupations receive an average hourly wage of $39.81 (Occupational Employment Statistics 2018). It is also important to point out that when adjusted for inflation, the lowest paid 10% of jobs have had nearly stagnant wages and only grew from $7.96/hour to $11.71/hour in a nearly 30 year period (1990-2018) (Employment Security Department, Whatcom County Data Tables 2021).

An Aging Workforce

As detailed by the Chuckanut Health Foundation's Aging Well in Whatcom Blueprint, the aging population of Whatcom is truly an asset to the community with untapped skills, capabilities, and talents, and who also have specific physical and social needs. In Whatcom County in 2018, 16.9% of the population was 65 or older.

Baby boomers (those born between 1946-1964) own nearly half of all businesses with employees in Whatcom County.

The Whatcom Community Foundation is taking a proactive approach to assist locally owned businesses that are at risk of retention by partnering with Project Equity, a leading national organization, to help them learn about the option of employee ownership succession. 

Project Equity performed an analysis for the entire county to quantify the number of privately-held companies with employees that are 20 years or older — a good indication that they need succession planning — and the impact if these businesses are not retained.

Companies that are 20 years old and over in Bellingham:

● Represent over 1,100 of the businesses in Bellingham

● Employ an estimated 16,000 individuals

● Generate about $4 billion in revenue