Jackson, Wyoming is often called The Last of the Old West. Its cowboy culture is so ingrained that it makes long rides even over your morning cup of coffee. And while some of the best things in life may be free here, you pay a hefty price to live in this valley known as Jackson Hole.
Elizabeth Hutchings came here from Massachusetts in 2018. “I love this community and I love the place where I live. But the question always on your mind is will you be able to survive here?”
For the first seven months, she could stay in her van.
Correspondent Ben Tracy asked, “How many places have you lived here in the four years, between your van, your car, and living in different apartments?”
“Eight or nine,” replied Hutchings. “And in a lot of places the question has arisen, ‘Oh, this is home, but for how long?'”
Teton County is now home to a larger division than the mountains for which it is named. It is the wealthiest and most unequal in America. average Here the income is $312,000. The median home value in the county is now over $3.6 million. This has left a food pantry overwhelmed by demand, staring at a $6 million townhome soaring down the street.
“The level of wealth you see and the level of inequality you see, I mean, some people have more money than they can spend in ten lifetimes,” Hutchings said.
There is a saying in the city that either you have three houses or three jobs. Many workers have been forced to move to cheaper cities some 40 miles away on sometimes treacherous roads.
Hutchings works at a local restaurant, and shares a basement apartment with a roommate. This is the most stable dwelling ever built.
“If you’re spending so much of your time driving, or doing so much of your time working, just trying to survive, I think the question everyone has is, is it worth it?” he said.
Yale School of the Environment Professor Justin Farrell grew up in Wyoming, and is the author of the book “Billionaire Wilderness.” He said that the middle class here has become completely hollow.
Tracy asked, “Isequality is an issue across the country. Is it particularly bad here?”
“It’s uniquely bad, actually. It’s nation-leading bad,” Farrell replied. “If you’re making $40,000 or $50,000, $60,000, you’re probably living in your car, or you’re living 45 minutes away. For most people, that’s not livable.”
This, he said, is because the super-rich Teton County seeks very His arrival here accelerated during COVID. The desire to flee the multi-million dollar mountain has created a rush to a new land.
Farrell said, “Americans have always looked to the West. It’s always been a cornerstone of American identity. And maybe Jackson Hole, along with the cowboy image and Tetons, I think, is what makes it so special to so many people.” On top of that, it’s functionally a tax haven. Wyoming doesn’t have a state income tax. It doesn’t have a corporate tax. So, it’s a really great place to park your money legally.”
All that money is cleverly hidden behind the mask of a pickup truck and jeans. It’s almost like the landmark watering hole, Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, knew what was coming
Farrell said, “This space is really unique, because it allows people to engage in this personal transformation to become a normal person. They rely on Western stereotypes to do that, and so you have these.” There are millionaires and even billionaires in Wrangler jeans, trying to avoid any sort of class indicators that can make them look rich. And I think that’s really well intentioned. “
Phil Hartl is a private wealth consultant who moved here from high-tax California. He and his wife Monica relocated to Jackson in late 2020. “It was really about living in a different kind of place and being really close to nature,” he said. “And so, being a part of it is tremendous.”
“I think you really have respect for the place,” Tracy said.
“a lot of.”
“And I don’t want this to sound rude, but I guess you know some people here think you’re part of the problem?”
“Oh, absolutely. Absolutely, absolutely.”
“how does that feel?”
“It’s my responsibility to show them that, you know, I understand we’ve been here recently – we’re COVID kids, right?” Hartl said. “But at the same time, if you look at it with respect and respect and listening, and at the end of the day, anywhere, they see you as a person, what kind of person are you.”
Hartl said he plans to donate a third of his tax savings to local nonprofits and charities. (Teton County is one of the most philanthropic communities in America.) “Am I part of the problem? Surely I am, you know?” Hartl said. “I’m one of those people who came in and was able to buy a house at a marked price. And I’m very grateful for that. But then, I also see that I have an obligation as a result.”
As for Elizabeth Hutchings, she says she wants to make sure people like her — the horsepower that runs this cowboy town — can also call it home. “If we don’t find a way to build a more equitable society and support people with housing and human services, you won’t have an economy,” she said. “You won’t have dozens of good restaurants to eat in.”
Tracy asked, “Do you look down the road and do you see yourself here in ten years?”
“I don’t care if I’m here in ten years, but I want other people to have a better quality of life in ten years,” Hutchings said.
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Story Produced by Sari Aviv. Editor: Karen Brenner.