All About Washington Geographic Area
Washington i/ˈwɒʃɪŋtən/ is a state in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States located north of Oregon, west of Idaho, and south of the Canadian province of British Columbia on the coast of the Pacific Ocean. Named after George Washington, the first President of the United States, the state was made out of the western part of the Washington Territory which had been ceded by Britain in 1846 by the Oregon Treaty as a settlement of the Oregon Boundary Dispute. It was admitted to the Union as the 42nd state in 1889.
Washington is the 18th most extensive and the 13th most populous state. Approximately 60 percent of Washington's residents live in the Seattle metropolitan area, the center of transportation, business, and industry along the Puget Sound region of the Salish Sea, an inlet of the Pacific consisting of numerous islands, deep fjords, and bays carved out by glaciers. The remainder of the state consists of deep temperate rainforests in the west, mountain ranges in the west, central, northeast and far southeast, and a semi-arid basin region in the east, central, and south, given over to intensive agriculture. After California, Washington is the second most populous state on the West Coast and in the Western United States.
Washington is a leading lumber producer. Its rugged surface is rich in stands of Douglas fir, hemlock, ponderosa and white pine, spruce, larch, and cedar. The state is the biggest producer of apples, hops, pears, red raspberries, spearmint oil, and sweet cherries, and ranks high in the production of apricots, asparagus, dry edible peas, grapes, lentils, peppermint oil, and potatoes. Livestock and livestock products make important contributions to total farm revenue and the commercial fishing catch of salmon, halibut, and bottomfish makes a significant contribution to the state's economy.
Manufacturing industries in Washington include aircraft and missiles, shipbuilding and other transportation equipment, lumber, food processing, metals and metal products, chemicals, and machinery. Washington has over 1,000 dams, including the Grand Coulee Dam, built for a variety of purposes including irrigation, power, flood control, and water storage.
Although its official name is "The State of Washington," the state is often referred to as "Washington state" to distinguish it from Washington, D.C. Another nickname is "the Evergreen State." Its largest city is Seattle, situated in the west, followed by Spokane, located in the east, and its capital is Olympia.
Washington Territory was named after George Washington, the first President of the United States. The area was originally part of a region called the Columbia District after the Columbia River. Ironically, the area was renamed Washington in order to avoid confusion with the District of Columbia, which contains the city of Washington.
Washington is the only U.S. state named after a president. To distinguish it from the U.S. capital, which is also named for George Washington, Washington is often referred to as Washington state, or in more formal contexts as "The State of Washington". Washingtonians (residents of Washington) and other residents of the Pacific Northwest normally refer to the state simply as "Washington", while instead referring to the nation's capital as "Washington, D.C." or simply "D.C."
Washington is the north-western most state of the contiguous United States. Its northern border lies mostly along the 49th parallel, and then via marine boundaries through the Strait of Georgia, Haro Strait and Strait of Juan de Fuca, with the Canadian province of British Columbia to the north. Washington is bordered by Oregon to the south, with the Columbia River forming the western part and the 46th parallel forming the eastern part of the southern boundary.
To the east, Washington borders Idaho, bounded mostly by the meridian running north from the confluence of the Snake River and Clearwater River (about 116°57' west), except for the southernmost section where the border follows the Snake River. To the west of Washington lies the Pacific Ocean. Washington was a Union territory during the American Civil War, although it never actually participated in the war.
Washington is part of a region known as the Pacific Northwest, a term which always includes Washington and Oregon and may or may not include Idaho, western Montana, northern California, and Alaska, depending on the user's intent.
The high mountains of the Cascade Range run north-south, bisecting the state. From the Cascades westward, Western Washington has a mostly marine west coast climate, with mild temperatures and wet winters, autumns and springs, and relatively dry summers. The Cascade Range contains several volcanoes, which reach altitudes significantly higher than the rest of the mountains. From the north to the south these volcanoes are Mount Baker, Glacier Peak, Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens, and Mount Adams. Mount St. Helens is currently the only Washington volcano that is actively erupting; however, all of them are considered active volcanoes. Mount Rainier, the tallest mountain in the state, is 50 miles (80 km) south of the city of Seattle, from which it is prominently visible. The 14,411-foot-tall (4,392 m) Mt. Rainier is considered the most dangerous volcano in the Cascade Range, due to its proximity to the Seattle metropolitan area, and most dangerous in the continental U.S. according to the Decade Volcanoes list. It is also covered with more glacial ice than any other peak in the contiguous 48 states.
Western Washington also is home of the Olympic Mountains, far west on the Olympic Peninsula, which supports dense forests of conifers and areas of temperate rainforest. These deep forests, such as the Hoh Rainforest, are among the only temperate rainforests in the continental United States.
In contrast, Eastern Washington, east of the Cascades, has a relatively dry climate with large areas of semiarid steppe and a few truly arid deserts lying in the rain shadow of the Cascades; the Hanford reservation receives an average annual precipitation of 6 to 7 inches (150 to 180 mm). Farther east, the climate becomes less arid, increasing as one goes east to 21.2 inches (540 mm) in Pullman. The Okanogan Highlands and the rugged Kettle River Range and Selkirk Mountains cover much of the northeastern quadrant of the state. The Palouse southeast region of Washington was grassland that has been mostly converted into farmland, and extends to the Blue Mountains.
Washington's climate varies greatly from west to east. An oceanic climate (also called "west coast marine climate") predominates in western Washington, and a much drier semi-arid climate prevails east of the Cascade Range. Major factors determining Washington's climate include the large semi-permanent high pressure and low pressure systems of the north Pacific Ocean, the continental air masses of North America, and the Olympic and Cascade mountains. In the spring and summer, a high pressure anticyclone system dominates the north Pacific Ocean, causing air to spiral out in a clockwise fashion. For Washington this means prevailing winds from the northwest bringing relatively cool air and a predictably dry season.
In the autumn and winter, a low pressure cyclone system takes over in the north Pacific Ocean, with air spiraling inward in a counter-clockwise fashion. This causes Washington's prevailing winds to come from the southwest, bringing relatively warm and moist air masses and a predictably wet season. The term "Pineapple Express" is used colloquially to describe the extreme form of this wet season pattern.
Despite western Washington having a marine climate similar to those of many coastal cities of Europe, there are exceptions such as the "Big Snow" events of 1880, 1881, 1893 and 1916 and the "deep freeze" winters of 1883–84, 1915–16, 1949–50 and 1955–56, among others. During these events western Washington experienced up to 6 feet (1.8 m) of snow, sub-zero (−18 °C) temperatures, three months with snow on the ground, and lakes and rivers frozen over for weeks. Seattle's lowest officially recorded temperature is 0 °F (−18 °C) set on January 31, 1950, but low-altitude areas approximately three hours away from Seattle have recorded lows as cold as −48 °F (−44 °C).
Weather during the cold season is greatly influenced by the Southern Oscillation. During the El Niño phase, the jet stream enters the U.S. further south through California, therefore late fall and winter are drier than normal with less snowpack. The La Niña phase reinforces the jet stream through the Pacific Northwest, causing Washington to have even more rain and snow than average.
In 2006, the Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington published The Impacts of Climate change in Washington's Economy, a preliminary assessment on the risks and opportunities presented given the possibility of a rise in global temperatures and their effects on Washington state.
Rainfall in Washington varies dramatically going from east to west. The western side of the Olympic Peninsula receives as much as 160 inches (4,100 mm) of precipitation annually, making it the wettest area of the 48 conterminous states and a temperate rainforest. Weeks or even months may pass without a clear day. The western slopes of the Cascade Range receive some of the heaviest annual snowfall (in some places more than 200 inches or 5,100 millimetres water equivalent) in the country. In the rain shadow area east of the Cascades, the annual precipitation is only 6 inches (150 mm). Precipitation then increases again eastward toward the Rocky Mountains.
The Olympic mountains and Cascades compound this climatic pattern by causing orographic lift of the air masses blown inland from the Pacific Ocean, resulting in the windward side of the mountains receiving high levels of precipitation and the leeward side receiving low levels. This occurs most dramatically around the Olympic Mountains and the Cascade Range. In both cases the windward slopes facing southwest receive high precipitation and mild, cool temperatures. While the Puget Sound lowlands are known for clouds and rain in the winter, the western slopes of the Cascades receive larger amounts of precipitation, often falling as snow at higher elevations. (Mount Baker, near the state's northern border, is one of the snowiest places in the world: in 1999, it set the world record for snowfall in a single season: 1,140 inches (95 ft; 29 m).)
East of the Cascades, a large region experiences strong rain shadow effects. Semi-arid conditions occur in much of eastern Washington with the strongest rain shadow effects at the relatively low elevations of the central Columbia Plateau—especially the region just east of the Columbia River from about the Snake River to the Okanagan Highland. Thus instead of rain forests much of eastern Washington is covered with grassland and shrub-steppe.
The average annual temperature ranges from 51 °F (11 °C) on the Pacific coast to 40 °F (4 °C) in the northeast. The lowest temperature recorded in the state was −48 °F (−44 °C) in Winthrop and Mazama. The highest recorded temperature in the state was 118 °F (48 °C) at Ice Harbor Dam. Both records were set east of the Cascades. Western Washington is known for its mild climate, considerable fog, frequent cloud cover and long-lasting drizzles in the winter, and warm, temperate summers. The Eastern region occasionally experiences extreme climate. Arctic cold fronts in the winter and heat waves in the summer are not uncommon. In the Western region, temperatures have reached as high as 112 °F (44 °C) in Marietta and as low as −20 °F (−29 °C) in Longview.
Forests cover 52% of the state's land area, mostly west of the North Cascades. Approximately two-thirds of Washington's forested area is publicly owned, including 64% of federal land. Other common trees and plants in the region are camassia, Douglas fir, hemlock, penstemon, ponderosa pine, western red cedar, and many species of ferns. The state's various areas of wilderness offer sanctuary, with substantially large populations of shorebirds and marine mammals. The Pacific shore surrounding the San Juan Islands are heavily inhabited with killer, gray and humpback whales.
Mammals native to the state include the bat, black bear, bobcat, cougar, coyote, deer, elk, gray wolf, moose, mountain beaver, muskrat, opossum, pocket gopher, raccoon, river otter, skunk, and tree squirrel. Because of the wide range of geography, the State of Washington is home to several different ecoregions which allow for a varied range of bird species. This range includes raptors, shorebirds, woodland birds, grassland birds, ducks, and others. There have also been a large number of species introduced to Washington, dating back to the early 1700s, including horses and burros. The channel catfish, lamprey, and sturgeon are among the 400 known freshwater fishes. Along with the Cascades frog, there are several forms of snakes that define the most prominent reptiles and amphibians. Coastal bays and islands are often inhabited by plentiful amounts of shellfish and whales. There are five species of salmon that ascend the Western Washington area, from streams to spawn.
Washington has a variety of National Park Service units. Among these are the Alta Lake State Park, San Juan Islands National Wildlife Refuge, as well as three national parks, the Olympic National Park, North Cascades National Park and Mount Rainier National Park. The three national parks were established between 1899 and 1968. Almost 95% (876,517 acres, 354,714 hectares, 3,547.14 square kilometers) of Olympic National Park's area has been designated as wilderness under the National Wilderness Preservation System. Additionally, there are 143 state parks and 9 national forests, run by the Washington State Park System and the United States Forest Service. The Okanogan National Forest is the largest national forest located on the West Coast, encompassing 1,499,023 acres (606,633 ha). It is managed together as the Okanogan–Wenatchee National Forest, encompassing a considerablely larger area of around 3,239,404 acres (1,310,940 ha).
The skeletal remains of Kennewick Man, one of the oldest and most complete human remains ever found in North America, were discovered in Washington. Prior to the arrival of explorers from Europe, the region had many established tribes of Native Americans, notable for their totem poles and their ornately carved canoes and masks. Prominent among their industries were salmon fishing and, notably among the Makah, whale hunting. The peoples of the Interior had a very different subsistence-based culture based on hunting, food-gathering and some forms of agriculture, as well as a dependency on salmon from the Columbia and its tributaries. The smallpox epidemic of the 1770s devastated the Native American population.
The first recorded European landing on the Washington coast was by Spanish Captain Don Bruno de Heceta in 1775, on board the Santiago, part of a two-ship flotilla with the Sonora. He claimed all the coastal lands up to Prince William Sound for Spain as part of their claimed rights under the Treaty of Tordesillas, which they maintained made the Pacific a "Spanish lake" and all its shores part of the Spanish Empire.
In 1778, British explorer Captain James Cook sighted Cape Flattery, at the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, but Cook did not realize the strait existed. It was not discovered until Charles William Barkley, captain of the Imperial Eagle, sighted it in 1787. The straits were further explored by Spanish explorers Manuel Quimper in 1790 and Francisco de Eliza in 1791, and British explorer George Vancouver in 1792.
The British-Spanish Nootka Convention of 1790 ended Spanish claims of exclusivity and opened the Northwest Coast to explorers and traders from other nations, most notably Britain and Russia as well as the fledgling United States. American captain Robert Gray (for whom Grays Harbor County is named) then discovered the mouth of the Columbia River. He named the river after his ship, the Columbia. Beginning in 1792, Gray established trade in sea otter pelts. The Lewis and Clark Expedition entered the state on October 10, 1805.
Explorer David Thompson, on his voyage down the Columbia River camped at the junction with the Snake River on July 9, 1811, and erected a pole and a notice claiming the country for Great Britain and stating the intention of the North West Company to build a trading post at the site.
Britain and the United States agreed to what has since been described as "joint occupancy" of lands west of the Continental Divide to the Pacific Ocean as part of the Anglo-American Convention of 1818, which established the 49th Parallel as the international boundary west from Lake of the Woods to the Rocky Mountains. Resolution of the territorial and treaty issues, west to the Pacific, were deferred until a later time. Spain, in 1819, ceded their rights north of the 42nd Parallel to the United States, although these rights did not include possession.
Negotiations with Great Britain over the next few decades failed to settle upon a compromise boundary and the Oregon boundary dispute was highly contested between Britain and the United States. Disputed joint-occupancy by Britain and the U.S. lasted for several decades. With American settlers pouring into Oregon Country, Hudson's Bay Company, which had previously discouraged settlement because it conflicted with the fur trade, reversed its position in an attempt to maintain British control of the Columbia District.
Fur trapper James Sinclair, on orders from Sir George Simpson, Governor of the Hudson's Bay Company, led some 200 settlers from the Red River Colony west in 1841 to settle on Hudson Bay Company farms near Fort Vancouver. The party crossed the Rockies into the Columbia Valley, near present-day Radium Hot Springs, British Columbia, then traveled south-west down the Kootenai River and Columbia River. Despite such efforts, Britain eventually ceded all claims to land south of the 49th parallel to the United States in the Oregon Treaty on June 15, 1846.
In 1836, a group of missionaries including Marcus Whitman established several missions and Whitman's own settlement Waiilatpu, in what is now southeastern Washington state, near present day Walla Walla County, in territory of both the Cayuse and the Nez Perce Indian tribes. Whitman's settlement would in 1843 help the Oregon Trail, the overland emigration route to the west, get established for thousands of emigrants in following decades. Marcus provided medical care for the Native Americans, but when Indian patients – lacking immunity to new, 'European' diseases – died in striking numbers, while at the same time many white patients recovered, they held 'medicine man' Marcus Whitman personally responsible, and murdered Whitman and twelve other white settlers in the Whitman massacre in 1847. This event triggered the Cayuse War between settlers and Indians.
Fort Nisqually, a farm and trading post of the Hudson's Bay Company and the first European settlement in the Puget Sound area, was founded in 1833. Black pioneer George Washington Bush and his caucasian wife, Isabella James Bush, from Missouri and Tennessee, respectively, led four white families into the territory and founded New Market, now Tumwater, in 1846. They settled in Washington to avoid Oregon's discriminatory settlement laws. After them, many more settlers, migrating overland along the Oregon trail, wandered north to settle in the Puget Sound area.
The growing populace of Oregon Territory north of the Columbia River formally requested a new territory, which was granted by the U.S. government in 1853. The boundary of Washington Territory initially extended farther east than the present state's, including what is now the Idaho Panhandle and parts of western Montana, and picked up more land to the southeast that was left behind when Oregon was admitted as a state. The creation of Idaho Territory in 1863 established the final eastern border. A Washington State constitution was drafted and ratified in 1878, but it was never officially adopted. Although never approved by Congress, the 1878 constitution is an important historical document which shows the political thinking of the time. It was used extensively during the drafting of Washington State's 1889 constitution, the one and only official Constitution of the State of Washington. Washington became the 42nd state in the United States on November 11, 1889.
Early prominent industries in the state included agriculture and lumber. In eastern Washington, the Yakima River Valley became known for its apple orchards, while the growth of wheat using dry-farming techniques became particularly productive. Heavy rainfall to the west of the Cascade Range produced dense forests, and the ports along Puget Sound prospered from the manufacturing and shipping of lumber products, particularly the Douglas-fir. Other industries that developed in the state included fishing, salmon canning and mining.
For a long period, Tacoma was noted for its large smelters where gold, silver, copper and lead ores were treated. Seattle was the primary port for trade with Alaska and the rest of the country, and for a time it possessed a large shipbuilding industry. The region around eastern Puget Sound developed heavy industry during the period including World War I and World War II, and the Boeing company became an established icon in the area.
During the Great Depression, a series of hydroelectric dams were constructed along the Columbia river as part of a project to increase the production of electricity. This culminated in 1941 with the completion of the Grand Coulee Dam, the largest concrete structure in the United States.
During World War II, the state became a focus for war industries. While the Boeing Company produced many of the nation's heavy bombers, ports in Seattle, Bremerton, Vancouver, and Tacoma were available for the manufacture of warships. Seattle was the point of departure for many soldiers in the Pacific, a number of whom were quartered at Golden Gardens Park. In eastern Washington, the Hanford Works atomic energy plant was opened in 1943 and played a major role in the construction of the nation's atomic bombs.
On May 18, 1980, following a period of heavy tremors and eruptions, the northeast face of Mount St. Helens erupted violently, destroying a large part of the top of the volcano. The eruption flattened the forests, killed 57 people, flooded the Columbia River and its tributaries with ash and mud, and blanketed large parts of Washington eastward and other surrounding states in ash, making day look like night.
The United States Census Bureau estimates that the population of Washington was 7,061,530 on July 1, 2014, a 5.01% increase since the 2010 United States Census.
According to the United States Census, in 2010, Washington had an estimated population of 6,724,540, which was an increase of 830,419 or 14.1 percent from the year 2000. This includes a natural increase of 380,400 people, and an increase from net migration of 450,019 people into the state. Washington ranks first in the Pacific Northwest region in terms of population, followed by Oregon, and Idaho. There has historically been a lot of German American, Irish American and English American immigration to what is now the state of Washington . In 1980, the Census Bureau reported Washington's population as 90% non-Hispanic white.
In 2011, 44.3% of Washington's population younger than age 1 were minorities.
The center of population of Washington in 2000 was located in an unpopulated part of the Cascade Mountains in rural eastern King County, southeast of North Bend, northeast of Enumclaw and west of Snoqualmie Pass.
At the 2010 U.S. census, the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue Metropolitan Area's population was 3,439,809, approximately half the state's total population.
6.7 percent of Washington's population was reported as under five years of age, 25.7 percent under 18 years of age, and 11.2 percent were 65 or older. Females made up approximately 50.2 percent of the population.
The largest ancestry groups (which the Census defines as not including racial terms) in the state are:
There are evident Russian American communities of Western Washington and some Russian immigration into the Seattle area since the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. There is a long history of Russian Americans in the state. In fact, Russianseattle.com (in Russian) and citydata discussed the issue of Russian Americans in Seattle and its suburbs.[better source needed]
According to the 2010 United States census, the racial and ethnic composition of Washington was the following:
There is a sizable population with Hispanic or Latino heritage at 11.2%.
The Hispanic/Latino population can belong to any of the racial groups and consists of people of mainly Mexican (8.9%), Spanish (0.4%), Cuban (0.4%), Salvadoran (0.2%), Guatemalan (0.1%), Colombian (0.1%) heritage. According to 2010 United States Census estimates, 77% of Washingtonians are white or European American, although this is ambiguous as it includes not only caucasians including those who are born in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the former USSR, but people born in countries of the Middle East and North Africa (the number of Arab American nationalities risen dramatically in the 1990s and 2000s).
While the population of African Americans in the Pacific Northwest is scarce overall, they mostly concentrate in South End and Central District areas of Seattle, and in inner Tacoma. The black community of Seattle developed after World War II when wartime industries and the U.S. Armed Forces employed and recruited tens of thousands of African Americans from the Southeastern United States. They left a high influence in west coast rock music and R&B and soul in the 1960s, including Seattle native Jimi Hendrix, a pioneer in hard rock, who was of African American and Cherokee Indian descent.
American Indians lived on Indian reservations or jurisdictory lands such as the Colville Indian Reservation, Makah, Muckleshoot Indian Reservation, Quinault (tribe), Salish people, Spokane Indian Reservation and Yakama Indian Reservation. The westernmost and Pacific coasts have primarily American Indian communities, such as the Chinook, Lummi and Salish. But Urban Indian communities formed by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs relocation programs in Seattle since the end of World War II brought a variety of Native American cultures to this diverse metropolis. The city was actually named for Chief Seattle when European Americans settled the isthmus in the 1880s.
Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are mostly concentrated in the Seattle−Tacoma metropolitan area. Seattle, Bellevue, and Redmond, which are all located within King County, have sizable Chinese communities (including Taiwanese), as well as significant Indian and Japanese communities that are present there. The Chinatown-International District in Seattle has a historical Chinese population dating back to the 1850s, who mainly emigrated from Guangdong province in southern China, and is currently home to a diverse East and Southeast Asian community. Koreans are heavily concentrated in the suburban cities of Federal Way and Auburn to the south and in Lynnwood to the north. Tacoma is home to thousands of Cambodians, and has one of the largest Cambodian American communities in the United States, along with Long Beach, California and Lowell, Massachusetts. The Vietnamese and Filipino populations of Washington are mostly concentrated within the Seattle metropolitan area. Washington state has the second highest percentage of Pacific Islander people in the mainland U.S. (behind Utah); the Seattle-Tacoma area is home to over 15,000 people of Samoan ancestry, who mainly reside in southeast Seattle, Tacoma, Federal Way, and in SeaTac.
The most numerous (ethnic, not racial, group) are Latinos at 11%, as Mexican Americans formed a large ethnic group in the Chehalis Valley, farming areas of Yakima Valley and Eastern Washington. In the late 20th century, large-scale Mexican immigration and other Latinos settled in the southern suburbs of Seattle with limited concentrations in King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties during the region's real estate construction booms in the 1980s and 1990s.
Additionally, Washington has a large Ethiopian community, with many Eritrean residents as well. Over 30,000 Somali immigrants also reside in the Seattle area.
The largest cities in Washington according to 2013 state estimates.
In 2010, 82.51% (5,060,313) of Washington residents age 5 and older spoke English at home as a primary language, while 7.79% (477,566) spoke Spanish, 1.19% (72,552) Chinese (which includes Cantonese and Mandarin), 0.94% (57,895) Vietnamese, 0.84% (51,301) Tagalog, 0.83% (50,757) Korean, 0.80% (49,282) Russian, and German was spoken as a main language by 0.55% (33,744) of the population over the age of five. In total, 17.49% (1,073,002) of Washington's population age 5 and older spoke a mother language other than English.
According to the American Religious Identification Survey 2001 (ARIS), 42% of Washington residents stated that someone in their household is affiliated with a church, synagogue or mosque. Major religious affiliations of the people of Washington are:
The largest denominations by number of adherents in 2010 were the Roman Catholic Church with 784,332; The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) with 267,267; and the Assemblies of God with 125,005.
Aquarian Tabernacle Church is the largest Wiccan church in the country.
As with many other Western states, the percentage of Washington's population identifying themselves as "non-religious" is higher than the national average. The percentage of non-religious people in Washington is the highest of any state other than Colorado.
The 2015 total gross state product for Washington was $425.017 billion, placing it 14th in the nation. The per capita GDP in 2009 was $52,403, 10th in the nation. Significant business within the state include the design and manufacture of aircraft (Boeing), automotive (Paccar), computer software development (Microsoft, Bungie, Amazon.com, Nintendo of America, Valve Corporation, ArenaNet), telecom (T-Mobile USA), electronics, biotechnology, aluminum production, lumber and wood products (Weyerhaeuser), mining, beverages (Starbucks, Jones Soda), real estate (John L. Scott), retail (Nordstrom, Eddie Bauer, Car Toys, Costco, R.E.I.), and tourism (Alaska Airlines, Expedia, Inc.). The state has significant amounts of hydroelectric power generation.
Significant amounts of trade with Asia pass through the ports of the Puget Sound. (See list of United States companies by state.) A Fortune magazine survey of the top 20 Most Admired Companies in the US has four Washington-based companies in it, including: Amazon.com, Starbucks, Microsoft, and Costco.
With the passage of Initiative 1183, the Washington State Liquor Control Board (WSLCB) ended its monopoly of all state liquor store and liquor distribution operations on June 1, 2012.
Among its resident billionaires, Washington boasts Bill Gates, technology advisor and former Chairman & CEO of Microsoft, who, with a net worth of $84.1 billion, is the wealthiest man in the world as of 2013. Other Washington state billionaires include Paul Allen (Microsoft), Steve Ballmer (Microsoft), Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Craig McCaw (McCaw Cellular Communications), James Jannard (Oakley), Howard Schultz (Starbucks), and Charles Simonyi (Microsoft).
As of January 2015[update], the state's unemployment rate is 6.3 percent.
The state of Washington is one of only seven states that does not levy a personal income tax. The state also does not collect a corporate income tax or franchise tax. However, Washington businesses are responsible for various other state levies, including the business and occupation tax (B & O), a gross receipts tax which charges varying rates for different types of businesses.
Washington's state base sales tax is 6.5 percent which is combined with a local rate. As of April 2014[update], the rate is 9.5 percent in Seattle and other cities. These taxes apply to services as well as products. Most foods are exempt from sales tax; however, prepared foods, dietary supplements and soft drinks remain taxable. The combined state and local retail sales tax rates increase the taxes paid by consumers, depending on the variable local sales tax rates, generally between 8 and 9 percent.
An excise tax applies to certain select products such as gasoline, cigarettes, and alcoholic beverages. Property tax was the first tax levied in the state of Washington and its collection accounts for about 30 percent of Washington's total state and local revenue. It continues to be the most important revenue source for public schools, fire protection, libraries, parks and recreation, and other special purpose districts.
All real property and personal property is subject to tax unless specifically exempted by law. Personal property also is taxed, although most personal property owned by individuals is exempt. Personal property tax applies to personal property used when conducting business or to other personal property not exempt by law. All property taxes are paid to the county treasurer's office where the property is located. Washington does not impose a tax on intangible assets such as bank accounts, stocks or bonds. Neither does the state assess any tax on retirement income earned and received from another state. Washington does not collect inheritance taxes; however, the estate tax is decoupled from the federal estate tax laws, and therefore the state imposes its own estate tax.
Washington's tax policy differs significantly from neighboring Oregon's, which levies no sales tax but a very high income tax. This leads to border economic anomalies in the Portland-Vancouver metropolitan area. Additional border economies exist with neighboring Canada and Idaho.
Washington is a leading agricultural state. (The following figures are from the Washington State Office of Financial Management and the USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service, Washington Field Office.) For 2003, the total value of Washington's agricultural products was $5.79 billion, the 11th highest in the country. The total value of its crops was $3.8 billion, the 7th highest. The total value of its livestock and specialty products was $1.5 billion, the 26th highest.
In 2004, Washington ranked first in the nation in production of red raspberries (90.0 percent of total U.S. production), wrinkled seed peas (80.6 percent), hops (75.0 percent), spearmint oil (73.6 percent), apples (58.1 percent), sweet cherries (47.3 percent), pears (42.6 percent), peppermint oil (40.3 percent), Concord grapes (39.3 percent), carrots for processing (36.8 percent), and Niagara grapes (31.6 percent). Washington also ranked second in the nation in production of fall potatoes, apricots, grapes (all varieties taken together), asparagus (over a third of the nation's production), sweet corn for processing, and green peas for processing; third in lentils, dry edible peas, tart cherries, prunes and plums, and dry summer onions; fourth in barley and trout; and fifth in wheat, cranberries, and strawberries.
The apple industry is of particular importance to Washington. Because of the favorable climate of dry, warm summers and cold winters of central Washington, the state has led the U.S. in apple production since the 1920s. Two areas account for the vast majority of the state's apple crop: the Wenatchee–Okanogan region (comprising Chelan, Okanogan, Douglas, and Grant counties), and the Yakima region (comprising Yakima, Benton and Kittitas counties).
Washington ranks second in the United States in the production of wine, behind only California. By 2006, the state had over 31,000 acres (130 km2) of vineyards, a harvest of 120,000 short tons (109,000 t) of grapes, and exports going to over 40 countries around the world from the 600 wineries located in the state. While there are some viticultural activities in the cooler, wetter western half of the state, the majority (99%) of wine grape production takes place in the desert-like eastern half. The rain shadow of the Cascade Range leaves the Columbia River Basin with around 8 inches (200 mm) of annual rain fall, making irrigation and water rights of paramount interest to the Washington wine industry. Viticulture in the state is also influenced by long sunlight hours (on average, two more hours a day than in California during the growing season) and consistent temperatures.
Washington has a system of state highways, called State Routes, as well as an extensive ferry system which is the largest in the nation and the third largest in the world. There are 140 public airfields in Washington, including 16 state airports owned by the Washington State Department of Transportation. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac) is the major commercial airport of greater Seattle. Boeing Field in Seattle is one of the busiest primary non-hub airports in the US. The unique geography of Washington creates exceptional transportation challenges.
There are extensive waterways in the midst of Washington's largest cites, including Seattle, Bellevue, Tacoma and Olympia. The state highways incorporate an extensive network of bridges and the largest ferry system in the United States to serve transportation needs in the Puget Sound area. Washington's marine highway constitutes a fleet of twenty-eight ferries that navigate Puget Sound and its inland waterways to 20 different ports of call, completing close to 147,000 sailings each year. Washington is home to four of the five longest floating bridges in the world: the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge, Lacey V. Murrow Memorial Bridge and Homer M. Hadley Memorial Bridge over Lake Washington, and the Hood Canal Bridge which connects the Olympic Peninsula and Kitsap Peninsula.
The Cascade Mountain Range also provides unique transportation challenges. Washington operates and maintains roads over seven major mountain passes and eight minor passes. During winter months some of these passes are plowed, sanded, and kept safe with avalanche control. Not all are able to stay open through the winter. The North Cascades Highway, State Route 20, closes every year. This is because the extraordinary amount of snowfall and frequency of avalanches in the area of Washington Pass make it unsafe in the winter months.
Washington is crossed by a number of freight railroads, and Amtrak's passenger Cascade route between Eugene, OR and Vancouver, BC is the eighth busiest Amtrak service in the USA and one of the few profitable routes in the system. Public transportation has generally lagged, although the much-delayed link light rail system in the greater Seattle region opened its first line in 2002. Residents of Vancouver have resisted proposals to extend Portland's mass transit system into Washington.
In 2007, Washington became the first state in the nation to target all forms of highly toxic brominated flame retardants known as PBDEs for elimination from the many common household products in which they are used. A 2004 study of 40 mothers from Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, and Montana found PBDEs in the breast milk of every woman tested.
Three recent studies by the Washington Department of Ecology showed that toxic chemicals banned decades ago continue to linger in the environment and concentrate in the food chain. In one of the studies, state government scientists found unacceptable levels of toxic substances in 93 samples of freshwater fish collected from 45 sites. The toxic substances included PCBs; dioxins, two chlorinated pesticides, DDE and dieldrin, and PBDEs. As a result of the study, the department will investigate the sources of PCBs in the Wenatchee River, where unhealthy levels of PCBs were found in mountain whitefish. Based on the 2007 information and a previous 2004 Ecology study, the Washington State Department of Health is advising the public not to eat mountain whitefish from the Wenatchee River from Leavenworth downstream to where the river joins the Columbia, due to unhealthy levels of PCBs. Study results also indicated high levels of contaminants in fish tissue that scientists collected from Lake Washington and the Spokane River, where fish consumption advisories are already in effect.
On March 27, 2006, Governor Christine Gregoire signed into law the recently approved House Bill 2322. This bill would limit phosphorus content in dishwashing detergents statewide to 0.5 percent over the next six years. Though the ban would be effective statewide in 2010, it would take place in Whatcom County, Spokane County, and Clark County in 2008. A recent discovery had linked high contents of phosphorus in water to a boom in algae population. An invasive amount of algae in bodies of water would eventually lead to a variety of excess ecological and technological issues.
Washington's executive branch is headed by a governor elected for a four-year term. The current statewide elected officers are:
The bicameral Washington State Legislature is the state's legislative branch. The state legislature is composed of a lower House of Representatives and an upper State Senate. The state is divided into 49 legislative districts of equal population, each of which elects two representatives and one senator. Representatives serve two-year terms, whilst senators serve for four years. There are no term limits. As of the 2013 and 2014 session, the Democratic Party held the majority in the House, while the Republicans had de facto but not de jure control of the state Senate. In the 2014 midterm elections, the Republican Party took control of the Senate.
The Washington Supreme Court is the highest court in the state. Nine justices serve on the bench and are elected statewide.
The two U.S. Senators from Washington are Patty Murray (D) and Maria Cantwell (D).
Washington's ten representatives in the United States House of Representatives (see map of districts) are Suzan DelBene (D-1), Richard Ray (Rick) Larsen (D-2), Jaime Herrera (R-3), Doc Hastings (R-4), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-5), Derek Kilmer (D-6), Jim McDermott (D-7), Dave Reichert (R-8), Adam Smith (D-9), and Dennis Heck (D-10).
Due to Congressional redistricting as a result of the 2010 Census, Washington gained one seat in the United States House of Representatives. With the extra seat, Washington also gained one electoral vote.
The state is typically thought of as politically divided by the Cascade Mountains, with Western Washington being liberal (particularly the I-5 Corridor) and Eastern Washington being conservative. Washington has voted for the Democratic presidential nominee in every election since 1988.
Due to Western Washington's large population, Democrats usually fare better statewide. The Seattle metropolitan combined statistical area, home to almost two-thirds of Washington's population, generally delivers stronger Democratic margins than most other parts of Western Washington. This is especially true of King County, home to Seattle itself and almost a third of the state's population.
Washington was considered a key swing state in 1968, and it was the only western state to give its electoral votes to Democratic nominee Hubert Humphrey over his Republican opponent Richard Nixon. Washington was considered a part of the 1994 Republican Revolution, and had the biggest pickup in the house for Republicans, who picked up seven of Washington's nine House seats. However, this dominance did not last for long as Democrats picked up one seat in the 1996 election and two more in 1998, giving the Democrats a 5–4 majority.
The two current United States Senators from Washington are Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, both Democrats. The governorship is currently held by Democrat Jay Inslee, who was elected to his first term in the 2012 gubernatorial election. Both houses of the Washington State Legislature (the Washington Senate and the Washington House of Representatives) are under a de jure Democratic majority, though the state senate is currently under de facto Republican control, due to two Democrats joining Republicans to form a Majority Coalition Caucus.
Washington is one of three states to have legalized assisted suicide. In 2008 voted on by initiative the Washington Death with Dignity Act passed and became law.
In November 2009, Washington state voters approved full domestic partnerships via Referendum 71, marking the first time voters in any state expanded recognition of same-sex relationships at the ballot box.
Three years later, in November 2012, same-sex marriage was affirmed via Referendum 74, making Washington one of only three states to have approved same-sex marriage by popular vote.
Also In November 2012, Washington state became one of just two states to pass by initiative the legal sale and possession of cannabis for both medical and non-medical use with Initiative 502. The law took effect in December 2012. Although marijuana is still illegal under U.S. Federal law, persons 21 and older in Washington state can possess up to one ounce of marijuana, 16 ounces of marijuana-infused product in solid form, 72 ounces of marijuana-infused product in liquid form, or any combination of all three, and to legally consume marijuana and marijuana-infused products. Some 334 legal recreational marijuana retail outlets are projected to open by June 2014.
Washington state was the first state in the United States where assisted suicide, same-sex marriage, and recreational cannabis use are all legal. After the 2014 elections, it was joined by Oregon.
As of the 2008–2009 school year, 1,040,750 students were enrolled in elementary and secondary schools in Washington, with 59,562 teachers employed to educate them. As of August 2009, there were 295 school districts in the state, serviced by nine Educational Service Districts. Washington School Information Processing Cooperative (a non-profit, opt-in, State agency) provides information management systems for fiscal & human resources and student data. Elementary and secondary schools are under the jurisdiction of the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), led by State School Superintendent Randy Dorn.
High school juniors and seniors in Washington have the option of utilizing the state's Running Start program. Initiated by the state legislature in 1990, the program allows students to attend institutions of higher education at public expense, simultaneously earning high school and college credit.
The state also has several public arts focused high schools including Tacoma School of the Arts, Vancouver school of Arts and Academics, and The Center School. There are also three Science and Math based high schools one in the Tri-Cities, Washington, known as Delta, one in Tacoma, Washington, known as SAMI, and another in Seattle known as Raisbeck Aviation High School.
There are more than 40 institutions of higher education in Washington. The state has major research universities, religious schools, and private career colleges. Public universities and colleges include the University of Washington, Washington State University, Western Washington University, Eastern Washington University, Central Washington University, and The Evergreen State College.