When it comes to the wealthiest Wyoming locales, it’s no exaggeration to say that Teton County is in a class of its own.  

Actually, forget Wyoming — that statement can be applied to the entire United States.

“Nobody is even close,” Jackson economist and town council member Jonathan Schechter said. “Our rich people aren’t other peoples’ rich people.” 

The founder of the Jackson-based Charture Institute likes to illustrate the point by breaking up American household income into tiers of roughly $100,000.

“The difference between first-place Teton County and second-place New York County is about $100,000,” Schechter said. “The difference between second-place New York County and 63rd-place Delaware County, Ohio, is about $100,000. And the difference between Delaware County and the absolute last-place county in America, a place called Rock County, Nebraska, is $92,000.”  

Teton County’s average household income, $312,442, stands alone in the top tier. The next 62 highest-income earning counties comprise the next tier, followed by the remaining 3,000-some counties, boroughs and parishes in the bottom bracket.  

Schechter derived his data from the Internal Revenue Service, dividing counties’ adjusted gross income from 2019, the most recent year of data available, by the number of tax returns filed. The IRS dataset is not detailed enough to allow computations of the median income. 

(Eda Uzunlar)

Wyoming’s other 22 counties have good company, falling in the bottom tier, occupied by 98% of the nation’s counties. 

Converse County, where the household income eclipses $95,000, shows up highest on the list. Nearest the bottom: Hot Springs County, where income comes to around $49,000 per tax filing. 

Teton County wasn’t always so much wealthier than everywhere else. On the heels of the Great Recession of the aughts, its average household income only marginally exceeded the Wyoming average. 

But change has come on strong. 

In 2019, Teton County accounted for 5% of all the tax returns filed in the state, while simultaneously accounting for 20% of the statewide income, according to Schechter. Some 35% of Wyoming’s overall investment income is derived from Teton County, he said, as is 72% of the state’s total charitable contributions. 

“It’s a very different world,” Schechter said. 

(Eda Uzunlar)

The data points are staggering even excluding 2020 and 2021, years where ultra-wealthy COVID-19 migrants started flocking to Jackson Hole. Schechter anticipates the income data from those years will be “nuttier still,” he told subscribers of his CoThrive newsletter.

“Bottom line: If it feels like things are not just crazy, but spinning-out-of-control crazy, there’s a good reason for it,” Schechter wrote. 

The massive infusion of wealth has exacerbated troubling trends afoot in Teton County. 

Last summer, 95% of businesses reported that the community’s workforce housing crisis was at the core of their staffing struggles, according to the Jackson Hole News&Guide. Pay has spiked out of necessity in response. A Target store is soon opening where workers will start at $24 an hour — equivalent to a $50,000 salary per year. But even those types of wages aren’t keeping hundreds of desperate seasonal laborers from living in places like the Bridger-Teton National Forest. 

Even Teton County’s traditionally higher-earning residents are getting pinched. A life change recently caused Animal Care Clinic veterinarian Ernie Patterson to seek out an apartment. The 69-year-old longtime Jackson resident is grateful for what he found, even though rent for the one-bedroom unit eats up more than 40% of his take-home pay. 

“I really can’t afford to buy anything, so now I’m just in the rental market,” Patterson said. “It’s tight.”

Mike Koshmrl

Mike Koshmrl reports from Jackson on state politics and Wyoming's natural resources. Prior to joining WyoFile, he spent nearly a decade covering the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s wild places and creatures...

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  1. In my view, when it comes to understanding the tumult washing over Jackson Hole and the greater Tetons region, mean income — not median — is the meaningful statistic.

    The reason is that mean, not median, income is the driving force behind everything from the increasingly higher prices being charged to the increasingly higher-end goods and services being offered. This gets lost when the focus is on median.

    For example, according the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, in 2019 Teton County’s median household income was $84,678. This was the highest in Wyoming, but only 2% higher than Campbell County’s $82,679.

    If we focused on median income, these figures would suggest that Teton and Campbell counties had similar socio-economic profiles, and faced a similar suite of challenges. Obviously this isn’t the case.

    Far more illuminating is mean household income, which IRS data shows to be $312,442 for Teton County, and $76,489 for Campbell – more than a four-fold difference.

    This, in turn, is what’s driving prices, especially for real estate. A family moving to Teton County earning a median household income of $84,678 will not be able to afford a local home because they will not be able to compete with the 18% of households earning a mean income of nearly four times that figure. Someone moving to Campbell County earning the nearly-equivalent $82,679 will be able to choose among a host of really nice options (a quick internet search shows the median home price in Gillette is currently $258,632, a figure 17% lower than Teton County’s 2019 mean household income).

    Bottom line – mean and median are both useful figures, but useful in different situations. If you want to understand the challenges facing someone already comfortably settled in Jackson Hole, perhaps median household income will be more instructive. If you want to understand the profound growth and change convulsing not just Jackson Hole, but the entire greater Tetons region, though, mean is far more illuminating.

  2. Median income is the more accurate and important metric. You cannot just brush off discussion of it with: “The IRS dataset is not detailed enough to allow computations of the median income.” You can estimate it. Tell us something. I suspect the median income in Teton County would be under $100,000/ year.

    1. Hey Paul, thanks for weighing in. It was my suggestion, in response to an editor’s inquiry, to add that sentence that admittedly glosses over the median income. I did that partially because it was not possible to compute from the IRS data the story was based on, but also because it didn’t look, to me, like the median income accurately represented wealth in Teton County. The Census put household income at $84K in 2019, less than that in Converse County. A household or individual entering Teton County with a $84K income right now would be homeless, with the exception of if they squeezed into a 1BR apartment that takes up half their rent. That’s the way I see it, but I’m open to hearing more about why you feel median income is more accurate and important.

      1. The Census Community Survey data are likely best here. IRS data are tricky to use under the best of circumstances but they are not typically useful for calculating what we would think of as typical household income. Using a mean rather than a median further distorts that picture. A few thoughts on this:

        – Not everyone files a return. Those who do typically have higher incomes. This is true between households, and it’s also true at the household level (not everyone in the household with income will file). Teton county is a tax haven (to be polite), so it seems reasonable to expect many people with very high incomes to file there. IRS data doesn’t tell you about income per se, it tells you about the income on returns that people file. This difference is not trivial.

        – Unreported income (income that people don’t have to report or choose not to report) is likely a big factor in Teton county. Think about the number of people who receive some kind of housing subsidy, transportation allowance or similar kinds of benefits, often informally. This often goes missing in IRS data.

        – The county is not always the best unit of analysis. How many people who work in Teton county live in Idaho? Or live somewhere else more than six months a year? As with Manhattan, much of the work force doesn’t live locally. A metropolitan analysis would likely give you an even more compelling story about inequality while providing more realistic data.

        – Finally, means are just the wrong measure here. You need to use medians and be able to describe the whole distribution of reported incomes. In counties with small populations, like Teton, even a few very high incomes can skew the mean so far that it’s no longer a helpful descriptor.

        I am glad to see that reporting on income inequality merits time from editorial staff and am grateful for this effort. This article has its heart in the right place, but it would be a lot better if it made use of the right data. I realize that income data are challenging to get and work with, but they’re worth the effort to tell this story.

  3. Speak of the devil. Employers are back to their old ways and wages are falling.

    Here is a housekeeping job in Jackson paying $14.49 at the Mountain Standard Group, LLC hotel. There are several offers like this on the http://www.wyomingatwork.com website. Ads are usually pulled as quickly as legally possible (2 days or so) because they are only run to stake a claim to visa workers. They are not run to attract US workers. Housekeepers who aren’t visa workers usually make $20-25/hr. Some private housekeepers make much more.

    We happily exploit the desperation of immigrant visa workers in Jackson Hole, the richest county in the USA. We pay them less than Americans for the same type of work and tie their hands to one employer. The wage gap for immigrants makes the wage gap for American women look petty in comparison. Many women are in charge of hiring these workers, btw.

    Additionally, the hotel “will deduct for the reasonable **fair market value cost of rent and utilities** based on number of occupants for workers who voluntarily elect to live in employer-offered housing.”

    No word on what type of housing arrangement is provided but hotels have been known to try and shoehorn 15-20 people into a trailer or house. Sometimes that still happens. Employee comfort and privacy is rarely a concern. The employer gets the employee to pay back a part of the cost of their labor in the form of rent if the housing is on the property, or part of an investment property for the business.

    Link to job offer (2-4-22)

    https://www.wyomingatwork.com/vosnet/jobbanks/jobdetails.aspx?enc=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

    The Hatchet Resort also had an ad which showed them paying the exact same wage for their workers.

  4. Someone forgot to mention that Jackson is the center for dark and dirty money laundering and low taxes. Kinda makes the story, don’t it.

  5. Nothing new. Just a bigger difference year after year.

    “Pay has spiked out of necessity in response”

    True. And rents usually follow every increase in pay. One gives, the other takes. Regular inflation hasn’t helped.

    Initially, pay mostly spiked when visa workers went AWOL due to COVID. Those people can be housed like sardines and paid peanuts. And of course, we keep having new businesses come into the valley trying to find workers while knowing that there aren’t any workers. They decide to build that new hotel, REI store, Target store, or Black Diamond store. Or they start a landscaping, property management, or construction company in spite of the housing & worker shortage. Usually, their business plan isn’t to hire Americans for their entry-level positions.

    Not everyone has seen their wages rise, of course. Those that run concessions in the national park really haven’t changed their ways nor have the golf courses like Vail Resort’s “Jackson Hole Golf and Tennis”. The federal government’s wages are fairly flat. Many others will slash pay the moment visa workers, interns, AmeriCorps ‘volunteers’ flood back in this summer. The Teton Science School is famous for its misuse of the AmeriCorps program as it caters to the wealthiest people in the valley. They are not alone.