A skier walks through downtown Jackson where the county's wealth and scarce private land combine to push real estate prices into the stratosphere. (Angus M. Thuermer, Jr./WyoFile)

The average per-capita income in Teton County soared to $318,297 in 2021, a leap an analyst called a “truly breathtakingly mind-blowing” increase that put the community far above any other county in the U.S.

The increase, teased out of federal statistics by consultant and Jackson Town Council member Jonathan Schechter, came mostly from investments among the county’s richest denizens. Fully 69% of Teton County’s personal income came from investments, far more than the U.S. average of 18%.

The county’s median per-capita income, not immediately discernible from the 2021 U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis figures, likely remains far below — in the neighborhood of 2020’s $55,000, Schechter said.

Schechter revealed his calculations in his Co-thrive newsletter, a production of his Jackson-based Charture Institute think tank. The BEA released the information Nov. 16.

“Why are people choosing to come here and not Wyoming’s other 22 magnificent counties?”

Jackson Town Council member Jonathan Schechter

The one-year per-capita jump of $97,404, a 44% spike, propelled Teton County far above second place Pitkin County, Colorado. Average per-capita income there, home of the ski town of Aspen, measured $198,939 — $119,358 less than Teton’s.

Teton County is the only one of 3,114 U.S. counties where per-capita income topped $200,000, meaning average income is more than 50% higher than the next closest county.

“There’s a high concentration of wealth,” Schechter said of Teton County. “What this signifies is just how concentrated that [wealth is] becoming — how much more it became in the last year.”

Wyoming lawmakers, who seek to tap into the riches by maximizing revenue from state lands, among other things, should take stock, Schechter said.

“Why are people choosing to come here and not Wyoming’s other 22 magnificent counties?” he asked. “The same tax and trust laws apply everywhere else in the state.”

Lawmakers, “might want to ask themselves ‘what are those people in Teton County doing that is working so well?’” he said. “That to me seems like a pretty logical question.”

State’s plan for income

The state’s most recent attempts to capture some Teton County wealth center on leasing state school trust land — much of it now in open space — for various commercial purposes. The State Board of Land Commissioners — spurred on by legislation — has entertained development proposals for several of the state’s holdings in the county.

Those, however remain controversial and have run afoul of some local sentiment and county environmental safeguards. The most recent development — a high-end “glamping” operation near Teton Village — would generate $119,800 a year for the state, according to original but since-trimmed-down plans.

Basecamp Hospitality is scheduled to update the SBLC on its controversial luxury camping development near Teton Village on Thursday. Critics have blasted the Office of State Lands and Investments for allowing a gray-water leach field after originally approving a closed system.

State officials have also mulled, though not officially proposed, using a 640-acre parcel inside Grand Teton National Park as the site of a casino or resort.

At the same time, lawmakers have repeatedly resisted a state income tax or allowing counties to impose a local real estate transfer tax. A real estate tax could generate funds to help Teton County accommodate its workers, many of whom are priced out of the housing market.

Journalists experience how some one percenters roll as they are treated to a ride in a stretch Hummer limousine in Jackson. (Angus M. Thuermer, Jr./WyoFile)

Housing in Teton County costs $226 for every $100 the average Wyoming resident pays, according to the latest figures from the Economic Analysis Division of the Wyoming Department of Administration and Information. In the second quarter of 2022, a two-bedroom unfurnished apartment in Teton County cost an average of $2,782 a month — before utilities.

The next-most-expensive county was Laramie, where a similar apartment rented for an average of $1,008.

A 1% transfer tax could generate $20 million annually, Rep. Mike Yin (D-Jackson) estimated last year.

The “extraordinary dynamic” of concentrated wealth and limited private land due to federal ownership of national forests and parks sets the foundation for the social consequences of unequal wealth and internationally scaled real-estate demand. The “incredible double squeeze” comes from being first in per-capita income and second in the percentage of public land among U.S. counties, Schechter said.

“It’s the people at the top who are setting the prices,” he said. “That creates, essentially, an unsolvable problem. We are trying to do things that no community in the world has figured out how to do.”

The state should be looking at other methods to capture Teton County wealth rather than “doing things that potentially compromise our ecosystem health,” which is the county’s top drawing card, Schechter said. State officials, “they’re just not asking the right questions,” he said.

Angus M. Thuermer Jr. is the natural resources reporter for WyoFile. He is a veteran Wyoming reporter and editor with more than 35 years experience in Wyoming. Contact him at angus@wyofile.com or (307)...

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  1. Use to love going there. Cant stand the place now. An over commercialized joke of a place overrun with New Yorkers, Chicagoan’s and Californians wearing look at my getup clothes which are a distinct giveaway along with there gee I no where your from accents. Do us a favor and go feed yourselves to the wolves and and 399 who you’ve made your afternoon entertainment nanny.

  2. I’m one of the 1% of the 1% in Jackson. If you tax me. I’ll sell my 20 million dollar house and invest in South Dakota or alaska or any of the other places. And everyone will take their money with them. You can’t put the problem back in the bottle at this point. No one wants affordable housing. It’s a talking point. And everyone rants on and on about getting it. But when the opportunity comes everyone opposes it. It’s just a joke of a directive. It is what it is. Wyoming has no tax and the state has benefitted in the billions because of it. You think a landscape laborer would make 35 bucks an hour in riverton? Nope. Sure they can’t afford to buy a home still. Which sucks. But you’re not going to fix anything with more taxes. That’s like saying if we just hire one more person or one more executive everything will be fixed. You just tip the scale and change your problem.

  3. Before digging further into the story, I would like to add that very few, if any, “one percenters” ride in a Hummer limousine in Jackson. They may arrive in a private jet but most wouldn’t be caught dead in a stretch Hummer.

    Let’s look at two ideas in the story which seem contrived to hide a different agenda more than anything else.

    The idea that leasing this State land is a threat to the ecosystem and tourism appears to be a typical Teton County attempt at obfuscation and misdirection. Especially when the glamping operation is for tourism, and tourists fill up our septic systems with their effluent every single day. Tourism is, and always has been, the greatest threat to Teton County especially for enviromental reasons. Tourism is about wasting natural resources for pleasure. Saying you want to protect industrial tourism and the enviroment is like Kanye West saying he wants to protect Nazis and Jews. There’s a lot to unpack.

    And let’s state for the record that property owners in Wyoming send billions to the State of Wyoming through property taxes. And in Jackson, they pump 100’s of millions into Jackson’s economy through construction activity, and buying goods and services. Individual property taxes exceed $80,000/year for some high flyers in Teton County. They need to pay more?

    Demanding more money from the wealthy to solve school funding issues (etc) seems reasonable on the surface since they might be the only ones with any spare change these days. However, the motivation of those opposed to the state lease is in question. Those who oppose the lease pick the old standbys for opposition and use their wealth to threaten others with lawsuits. These people have always been opposed to any and all development anywhere near them, including affordable housing. They ring the “enviromental” alarm bell and for every issue, or the local Fairy-Tail-Inspired Comprehensive Plan. As with the shepherd boy who cried wolf, it’s hard to know when they actually face a real threat, or care.

    They are most likely motivated by a desire to protect their property values and their personal viewsheds. And there is no need, or reason, to steal more money from Wyoming’s property owners to please those who oppose the state lease. If anything, as suggest elsewhere, the opposition can easily pony up tens of millions of dollars, and should, to keep the entire 640 acres undeveloped for 20 years if it really bothers them. Make them pay, not every other property owner.

    Let’s look at some facts about the real environmental dangers near the state parcel.

    The number of cattle on the adjacent Snake River Ranch runs around 2,000. It seems reasonable to suggest that 2000 cattle are a bigger threat to the enviroment than a glamping operation that trucks out sewage but uses a gray-water leach field for sinks and showers (approved by the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality). Most of the valley floor is a poor filtration system so it would be nice to truck out the gray-water in addition to sewage but is it a real threat? And there are at least 815 individual septic systems in the Fish Creek watershed that dispose of sewage and gray-water. Throughout Teton County, there are over 2000 septic systems that release wastewater effluent into the ground. Many who oppose the glamping operation are connected to just such a system. The area surrounding the state parcel is mostly short-term rentals for tourists, and it’s also full of septic-system leach fields.

    Maybe those who oppose the state’s lease should really go after themsleves and their neighbors if they truly want to save the enviroment. You can see a wonderful map of the septic systems surrounding the State’s parcel on Teton County’s GIS map: https://maps.greenwoodmap.com/tetonwy/mapserver/map#zcr=4.53683317879012/2428910.725728617/1431314.8159383219/0&lyrs=a2020,treat,sewer,lift,tojcorp,Roads,ownership,placelabels

    Let’s not overstate the harm this lease might present simply to protect the property values and viewsheds of spolied homeowners who haven’t cleaned up their own messes. And let’s remember that Schechter and reporter Angus have both promoted industrial tourism and profited from it. And the value of their property in Teton County is directly tied to the limited use of, and availability of, developable property in Teton County. Schechter says State officials are just not asking the right questions. Perhaps State officials have decided that the boys crying wolf aren’t worth their time.

    1. George: In math when a problem seems unsolvable, it usually means that you have become a part of the problem and sadly Jackson has become the happy hunting grounds for mediocre ivy’s and preppies. Dysfunction Junction, but top flight bottom feeding. Good to see you stirred up. Another problem is a lot of Jackson money goes to politicians around the state. Green on the outside, but Marjorie Taylor Greene on the inside. From just us chickens.

  4. The income measurement is certainly noteworthy but it says less about Teton County than Jonathan Schechter thinks it does.

    Teton County doesn’t even crack the top 25 most expensive zip codes. Atherton, California, topped the 2022 rankings with a median home listing price of $9 million. Jackson was at $2.9 million, maybe, just shy of New York City’s median price. What does that say about Jackson?

    And income and wealth are two different things. They are usually related but direct comparisons to other high-income, high-wealth places are questionable at best. How many super rich folks claiming Jackson as home (for tax purposes) actually live here for more than 5 months? Few, I am betting. They are always traveling.

    And don’t non-resident homeowners drive up costs and create economic havoc for much of Jackson? Their short-term rentals have helped create Teton County’s housing problems, maybe more so than its “full-time” wealthy “residents”. Investors in the hospitality industrial complex and visa-based service industry are one of the main drivers of economic inequality in Teton County. Many are outside investors. Of course, government policies at all levels are one of the biggest drivers of economic inequality in Teton County. They favor the wealthy.

    This statement from Schechter is priceless:

    “Why are people choosing to come here and not Wyoming’s other 22 magnificent counties?” he asked. “The same tax and trust laws apply everywhere else in the state. What are those people in Teton County doing that is working so well?’”

    Ask the Four Seasons when they plan to develop a resort in Riverton. Never is my guess. The biggest joke I have heard is that Dubios is the next Jackson. Not in a hundred years. Plenty of nice places in Wyoming but those places will never have what Jackson was gifted by mother nature. Without these great mountains, there would be no great skiing, waterways, vistas, wildlife, etc. And all of that is easily accessible, unlike in many parts of Wyoming (thankfully, like the Winds). The goods and serivces to cater to the wealthy and visitors are here because of the natural enviroment – including the busiest, richest airport in Wyoming full of private jets and national air service.

    If anything, Teton County should get credit for slowly destroying the ecosystem they inherited. Nothing about industrial tourism is admirable in Jackson. And the county has exported all of their problems, especially their people problems, to other towns in Wyoming and Idaho. We need more of that? Many locals are sick of it and have been greatly harmed by it.

    No reason to celebrate that, or repeat it elsewhere in the state, unless you’re a taxing authority more interested in revenue than your core citizens.

  5. I would put the Indian gaming casino/resort on the 640 next to the resort, as Fish Creek has already been degraded from improper sludge disposal and shallow commercial sewage injection practices into a rising aquifer. A new state of the art sewage treatment facility could be built on Snake River ranch and the tax-avoiden, money -launderen, environgelic (we hate oil, coal, and gas) economics could continue on in big berm land. That would sure buy a lot of school books for cowboys and Indians

  6. Why should Wyoming residents not living in Teton County be forced to provide a subsidy to Jackson so they can continue their opulent lifestyle at no cost to themselves? Is that part of why they are rich, making ordinary working folks pay for their luxurious lifestyle, while they get a free or reduced cost lifestyle? Tons of BS can be found in pastures all over the state, we need none of theirs.

  7. Amazing. Upon review, I do find that the St. Louis Fed’s 11/16/22 report does indeed place Teton County WY per capita income in 2021 at $318,297. No “teasing” necessary. I assume they are correct. Wow. Quite a number (your story does not provide a link to the BEA source data, but I find it here: https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/PCPI56039).

    However, to provide some context, I also find that the Economic Policy Institute reported that the average income in Teton County WY in 2015 of the top 1% of families was $22.5 million, and the average income of the other 99% of families was $158,290 (see https://www.cnbc.com/2018/07/26/the-most-unequal-place-in-america-is-jackson-wyoming-idaho.html ). The point is, wealth in Jackson was incredibly concentrated 7 years ago, and I would guess that is pretty much the case today. The reality is, most of us live well within the “normal” range while a very few are in the stratosphere of the astronomically wealthy.

    Your article elicited many responses calling for higher taxes on the rich, and I, too, am all in favor of other people paying for what I want. Yet, any tax policy needs to carefully consider that the flight of just a few hundred people could reduce Jackson from the home of the ultra rich (many of whom are ultra charitable) to a much more average sort of place, and could leave the average resident having to pick up the bill.

    What should be done about the tremendous wealth disparity? I don’t know. Doing something seems reasonable. Sure, a real estate transfer tax or state income tax are among the possibilities that should be thoroughly debated. Still, a “tax the rich” approach may backfire and leave the community poorer. The real estate tax has certainly ended up socking it to the masses in Teton County already. All I can say is, any action by the state to take from the rich to give to the poor sounds good but deserves long, careful and cautious deliberation. Will these plans achieve their intended results? Who exactly will benefit? Will it really be the ultra rich who pay? Or the rest of us?

  8. I am making the hypothesis that the ultra wealthy come to Jackson for several reasons. 1. there is no income tax and also NO RESIDENCY Requirement. What if we tax those who claim Wy as their residence but do not actually live here at least 5 months of the year! (This could also be accomplished by our real estate taxes. Homestead vs non-homestead) 2. There are world class services here: skiing, golf, fishing, hiking, nature preservers, national parks and of course great restaurants with interesting retail shops. Of course the wealthy come here to play but not to pay. I for one am in favor of a real estate transfer tax. Great first step solution!!!!!! It could be used for any transaction over a certain amount.

  9. This is why we had to move from Teton County 10 years ago. Wake up and smell the coffee Wyoming. A 1% tax on the wealthy won’t make a dent in their pockets and will help the services in the county immeasurably.

  10. It appears to me that the modest 1 Percent Real Estate Transfer Tax could serve to provide the amount of affordable income housing that Teton County so desperately needs. You could build a lot of quality housing units of all varieties for $20-30 million in just one year’s tax haul.

    It’s a matter of priorities. What is more important to Teton County’s immediate needs? New high end luxury camping-glamping sites, or affordable housing and transportation infrastructure for 2,000 tourism and service sector employees ? I’d like Schechter & Co. to research and report how many low income working class jobs it takes to support each millionaire and billionaire’s lifestyle.

    I’d like to know, because I am one county over in Cody. My own Park County is afflicted by these same conditions , only 10-15 years behind the Teton County tectonic shifts.

    1. Massive development is ruining Jackson Hole. Building sprawling suburbs to house the servants of rich people is not making Jackson Hole better, and there is no limiting principle. Will everyone who can find a job in JH be provided a subsidized home? Subsidized housing contributes to the growth cycle by providing more low cost workers so business can expand, and the 5 star hotels can keep their margins up, and 5 star restaurants can be fully staffed. Stop over-developing JH and let the prices and wages rise to the point that growth is impeded. It’s the only way to save what’s left of this national treasure.

      1. Judd:

        In another comment above you said: “They earned it. The State doesn’t have a right to confiscate it.”

        So, do you think that the ranching families that have been in the valley far longer than most Jackson residents shouldn’t be allowed to develop THEIR land to earn an income? You wish to penalize them for being the last to develop their property? You are clearly against any and all development so as to protect your assets – and way of life – at the expense of anyone else who might wish to do the same through development large or small.

        Should the government confiscate a family’s right to develop land? Private property rights used to be important to libertarians and republicans until they moved to Jackson, apparently.

        Teton County is, for the most part, totally undeveloped federal land and that will never change. Same with the majority of private land. Single-family homes on large lots that will always be single-family homes on large lots. Private development on private land is hardly the threat you pretend it is.

  11. Angus, you report “the average per-capita income in Teton County soared to $318,297 in 2021, a leap an analyst called a ‘truly breathtakingly mind-blowing’ increase that put the community far above any other county in the U.S. The increase [was] teased out of federal statistics by consultant and Jackson Town Council member Jonathan Schechter.” Could you check with Schechter whether he stands by his math? It seems to me possible he is citing average household income, not average per capita income. While Teton County would still be wealthy no matter how you slice it, average household income and average per capita income are quite different. Maybe the cited $318,297 figure is correct, in which case, that seems truly dramatic. But, if the cited $318,297 statistic is really average household income instead of average per capita income, then, did you misquote Schechter? Or did Schechter mispeak/miscalculate?

  12. The “haves” and the “havenots” will always be at odds but the state needs to maintain the services and growth incentives to keep the state healthy. Hate the idea of “income tax” but question are we getting enough for KWH leaving the state via coal or wind generation?

  13. The best thing that could happen to Jackson Hole is a state income tax.
    Other teasons the wealthy are moving to Teton County (besides the lack of state income tax) — an airport with direct flights to multiple large metropolitan areas, an elite ski resort, and those “National Parks” in the back yard which people from cities equate to being “outdoors.”

  14. We need a state income tax it’s the only way to deal with all the problems that upper income people create .Why not capitalize on that revenue source? It’s ridiculous not to even look at it .

  15. Thuermer’s article illustrates a local version of a national/international problem – unequal distribution of income and wealth. I know the Legislature would never even consider it, but Wyoming needs a progressive income tax on both individuals and corporations.

    If the state’s median income is $55,000, then a personal income tax for an individual could start at that figure. A family of four might earn $80,000 or more before an income tax would kick in. Even then, we’d probably be talking 100s of dollars at that income level if the tax were truly progressive.

    The argument that people have “earned” their income is specious. The uber wealthy (corporations and individuals) pay the Legislature to protect their wealth. Tax law is written by and for the egregiously wealthy. Tax law in Wyoming is a form of welfare. It protects the welfare of the financial elites – especially those in Teton County as Thuermer demonstrates.

    Again, a progressive state income tax is a non-starter here in Wyoming, and we will continue to watch the disparity between rich people’s obscene accumulation of wealth and the rest of us Wyomingites who watch the price of gas and eggs. A two bedroom apartment that rents for $2700 a month? Obscene is not too strong an adjective.

  16. the founding members of the wsga were democrats.
    the perception that republicans are the party of money is fake news.

    look no further than the johnson county range war.the pioneers republicans were assaulted by rich cattle barons,democrats.the democrats were so desperate they hired texan mercenary’s.

    in the end the good guys won,republicans !

    1. yeah, the “good guys” won the Civil War, too. But now it’s both parties who reward the wealthy through tax laws (and lack thereof)

      1. You are absolutely right. The lack there of is what makes Wyoming so attractive to everybody on the planet. Whether we want them here or not they will outspend us.