New demographic wrinkle in Jackson Hole

‘Service professionals’ a major new economic wrinkle in Jackson Hole

JACKSON, Wyo. – The dust has settled from the recession in Jackson Hole, and economist Jonathan Schechter says much about the valley’s business looks familiar. Taxable sales in Jackson and Teton County are on track to reach an all-time high this year. Skier days and national park visitors remain strong and even construction is rising.

But he detects something new: the increase in people working in the professional services.

“Jackson Hole has always had its share of folks working in finance, health care and the like,” he writes in a magazine supplement to the Jackson Hole News&Guide called Compass.

“What’s new to the mix are information services and businesses conducted over the Internet. Over the past 10 years, it’s not only become easier to do many jobs from anywhere, it’s become more acceptable. As a result, Jackson Hole is experiencing a sharp growth in these types of businesses, as well as the types of people who found, run, and work for them.”

Why does this matter?

“Because these sorts of jobs pay better than traditional Jackson Hole jobs in construction, tourism, government and the like,” he continues. “This has tremendous implications for the community, ranging from who can afford to live here to how we fund our government.”

Other parts of his lengthy essay reinforce themes that Schechter, a regular columnist in the News&Guide, has developed over the years:

Investments, not wages

The average Teton County resident earns the bulk of his income from investments, not wages. In 2012, this income-from-investments reached an all time high of 66 percent. That’s No. 1 among U.S. counties in per-capita investment income and 4th in proportion of total income generated by investments.

Implications for housing

In 2007, one-fifth of households with the highest incomes accounted for 48 percent of the county’s total personal income. By 2012, that had grown to 57 percent.

In other words, investment income is causing wealth to become more concentrated.

This matters in the housing realm. Only the top 20 percent of Teton County’s households have had incomes great enough—whether through wages, investments or some combination—to afford the median price of a single-family home in Teton County. Not even a person earning $100,000 a year can, on that salary alone, afford the median price of a Jackson Hole single-family home. But a professional services worker can at least afford a condominium.

Turn over of 5 percent a year

Jackson Hole turns over about 5 percent of its residents in any given year. Who will the new residents be? The vast majority of the community’s new residents will come from those whose income comes from professional and services jobs or investments.

Drifting toward demographic divide

The county is drifting toward an economic divide of haves and have-nots, but also a demographic divide of younger, poorer Hispanic residents and older, wealthier white residents.

Younger Hispanics, older Caucasians

Hispanics constituted two thirds of the local population growth from 2000 to 2010. The median age of a Hispanic resident is 28.3, compared to 37.7 years for a Caucasian. The number of non-Hispanics in the Town of Jackson actually declined 8 percent from 2000 to 2010.

According to the 2010 Census, the percentage of Hispanics in the Town of Jackson was 28 percent. Today, it’s likely, 33 percent.

Hispanics were 17 percent of the population in 2010.

Yves Desgouttes, who has operated motels, tells the magazine that he expects Latinos to flourish in Jackson Hole. They have risen from the jobs that nobody else wants to some of their children graduating from college, because “most of them have more family loyalty than we have,” those kids will come back—some of them as doctors and lawyers.

Now Moldavians and Romanians

The newest wave of immigrants working in Jackson Hole comes from eastern Europe, especially Moldavia and Romania, and are working on obtaining work visas.

Eagle County most ethnically diverse

Casting a sideways glance at other resort counties in the Rocky Mountains, Schechter finds that Eagle County is the most populous and the most ethnically diverse—and also has the youngest median age. Eagle County is home to Vail and Beaver Creek but also includes a portion of Aspen’s down-valley middle-class residential area.

To the extent that any of the resort counties have a “working class,” Eagle comes closest, with two-thirds of its income coming from wages. Only Summit County, Utah, comes close to matching that—although its proximity to Salt Lake City makes it an anomaly.

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About Allen Best

Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist. He publishes a subscription-based e-zine called Mountain Town News, portions of which are published on the website of the same name, and also writes for a variety of newspapers and magazines.
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