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caption: This map of the major-party 2016 Presidential Election results shows a red wave in working-class Western Washington. Trump won easy victories in both Grays Harbor (41%-48%) and Mason (41%-47%), even nearly reversing Obama's small landslide in McCleary (37%-50%). 
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This map of the major-party 2016 Presidential Election results shows a red wave in working-class Western Washington. Trump won easy victories in both Grays Harbor (41%-48%) and Mason (41%-47%), even nearly reversing Obama's small landslide in McCleary (37%-50%).
Credit: Ben Anderstone

Trump promised to revive Northwest timber jobs during his 2016 campaign. That hasn't happened

Mason County, which is due west of Olympia, was one of two reliably Democratic counties in Western Washington that swung hard for Donald Trump in the last election, when he promised to bring timber jobs back to the Northwest.

But those jobs have not come back.

In 2016, Mason County had 348 jobs in the wood and forest products sector. In 2019, there were only 160 jobs.

In neighboring Grays Harbor County, which also flipped red for Trump, there has been only a modest improvement from 1,099 timber industry jobs in 2016 compared to 1,141 today.

What about other parts of the economy? The data post-2016 show that even before Covid-19 hit, neither county had recovered from job losses due to the great recession of 2008, according to regional state economist Jim Vleming.

Historically, big job losses in the timber industry occurred in the 1980s and 1990s, in part when much logging on federal lands in these areas stopped. Mindy Crandall, a professor of forest policy at Oregon State University, said the more recent declining job numbers here in Western Washington mirror trends in the industry throughout Northwest.

“We have definitely seen employment kind of trend down, even when harvest levels remain the same, and that's just because places are getting more efficient,” Crandall said.

In other words, logging operations and mills are getting more done with fewer workers, sometimes with new machinery these days.

Crandall said President Trump has not reversed the trend to bring timber jobs back to the northwest.