- TheJackson, Wyoming, metropolitan area is the most unequal place in the US, according to a 2018 report published by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).
- In the Western resort town, theaverage income of the richest 1% is more than $16.1 million, while the average income of the bottom 99% is $122,447.
- That means that Jackson’s wealthiest inhabitants make 132 times more, on average, than everyone else in the metro area.
- I recently spent three days in the area, and I didn’t see the obvious signs of wealth inequality that I’d been expecting, largely because even the bottom 99% are earning well over the state-wide median.
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The most economically unequal place in America isn’t a major city likeSan Francisco orNew York.
Instead, it’s a tiny Western resort town where billionaires go to ski: Jackson, Wyoming.
A 2018 report published by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) found that in the Jackson metro area — which encompassesTeton County in Wyoming and Teton County in Idaho— wealthiest residents make 132 times more, on average, than everyone else. The average income of the 1% is more than $16.1 million, and the average income of the bottom 99% is $122,447.
In the report, researchers looked at 2015 tax return data to analyze the average income of the top 1% and the bottom 99% of a population, broken down by state, metropolitan area, and county.
As compared to the commonly used Gini coefficient measure of inequality, EPI’s measure captures very high incomes better because, as the report notes, “it represents all the taxable income people earn in market transactions, such as the income earned from working for a wage or salary at a job, through interest on a savings account, or from selling a financial asset for more than its purchase cost (a capital gain).”
I recently spent three days in the Wyoming side of the Jackson metro area. Here’s what it looks like in the most unequal place in America.
Andy Kiersz contributed to reporting.
Jackson is a resort town in northwestern Wyoming with a population of about 10,400 people. The Jackson metropolitan area, which includes part of Idaho, is the most unequal place in the US, according to a 2018 report published by the Economic Policy Institute.
In the Western resort town, the wealthy make 132 times more, on average, than everyone else, according to the EPIreport.
The average income of the richest 1% is more than $16.1 million, while the average income of the bottom 99% is $122,447.
On a recent July weekend, I drove down to spend a few days in Jackson and get a feel for like inthe most unequal place in the country.
I drove down from Montana and passed through Idaho.
I had to drive through the iconic Teton mountain range to get to Jackson.
Jackson sits in the middle of the Jackson Hole valley, which spans the area between two mountain ranges: the Teton Range and the Gros Ventre Range.
At least 12 peaks in the Teton Range reach over 12,000 feet high.
Jackson Hole is known for its world-class skiing.
It’s home to three ski resorts:Jackson Hole Mountain Resort,Snow King Mountain, and Grand Targhee Resort.
A day pass to ski at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, which USA Today recently ranked asthe second-best ski resort in the US, starts at $99 for an adult— and that doesn’t include equipment rental.
While I always knew of Jackson as a skiing destination, I quickly realized that it can’t be written off as a summer destination.
In fact, more people visit in the summertime than in the winter, Kate Sollitt, the executive director of the Jackson Hole Travel and Tourism Board, told me.
“Summertime is very busy in Jackson as we are the gateway to two national parks,” Sollitt said.
Read more:A 3-day trip to Jackson Hole during what I thought would be the low season ended up being a valuable lesson in writing off ski towns as winter-only destinations
When I visited on a recent July weekend, the streets of Jackson were milling with tourists sightseeing, shopping, eating, and drinking. Traffic through the center of town at times rivaled that of New York City, where I live.
Jackson has come a long ways from its origins as a “little quaint cow town,” as Jane Golliher, a local rancher, put it.
“We’ve seen it change from a nice little quaint cow town to millionaires,” Golliher told me. “And now billionaires are coming in buying out the millionaires.”
Jackson’s downtown area embraces its Western charm.
Marking each corner of the town square arefour elk antler arches, which make for popular photo ops.
One shop sells hundreds of cowboy hats in varying colors and styles.
Many of Jackson’s shops, such asJackson Hole Jewelry Company and Workshop, sell locally made products.
The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar is an iconic cowboy-themed tavern in the heart of town. It has real saddles for bar stools.
When I went on a Saturday night, I paid a $5 cover charge and my cocktail was about $10, which seemed a bit pricey for Wyoming but not at all outrageous compared to the New York City prices I’ve gotten used to.
The town center has breweries, restaurants, ice cream shops, gift shops, and more.
On my first evening in town, I ate at a restaurant called Thai Plate, while sitting outside and enjoying a live music performance from an adjacent bar.
Jackson Hole real estate doesn’t come cheap. The average price of a home in Jackson Hole is $1.62 million, according to Ed Liebzeit of Jackson Hole Sotheby’s International Realty.
A three-bedroomhome in Jackson Hole currently listed for $1.69 million has about 1,771 square feet of living space and sits on just under an acre of land.
The high end of the housing market is growing faster than ever, with more than 30 homes currently listed for sale for $10 million or more in Jackson Hole, Liebzeit said.
One of these isa 280-acre ranch listed for $80 million that comes with a 7,984-square-foot main house and a guest house.
It’s the most expensive property currently listed for sale in Jackson Hole, according to Liebzeit.
Many wealthy people buying homes in the area either come from Silicon Valley or they’re Wall Street types who work in private equity and venture capital, Liebzeit said.
Many celebrities and high-profile individuals have also bought homes in Jackson Hole.
Harrison Ford, Sandra Bullock, Wal-Mart heiressChristy Walton, and former vice president Dick Cheney have all owned homes in the area.
Wealthy Americans may be drawn to Jackson for its tax benefits as well as for its natural beauty.
Liebzeit calls Wyoming “the most tax-friendly state in the country” because it hasno personal or corporate income tax and no estate or inheritance tax.
The town of Jackson is a short drive from two national parks.
Grand Teton National Park is less than a 10-minute drive from the town of Jackson. Yellowstone National Park is abouta 40-minute drive away.
At the national parks, visitors can go camping, hiking, fishing, biking, boating, climbing, horseback riding, and cross-country skiing in the winter.
Visitors can also book guided trips and wildlife safaris.
The Jackson metro area is served by the Jackson Hole Airport, which is located within Grand Teton National Park.
American, Delta, andUnited Airlines fly in and out of Jackson Hole Airport year-round, and Frontier Airlines offers direct flights between Jackson Hole and Denver, Colorado, in the summertime.
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort isn’t just a skiing destination. In the summer months, it offers numerous activities for visitors, from rides on the ski lifts and trams to mountain biking and outdoor concerts.
A ride on the resort’s famous aerial tram, which climbs 4,139 vertical feet up to the top of Rendezvous Mountain at an elevation of 10,450 feet,costs $37 online or $44 in person.
For those who want to go horseback riding, try their hand working with cattle, and experience life on a Western ranch, dude ranches are an important part of Jackson Hole culture.
A dude ranch is a guest ranch where people can sleep in cabins or lodges, ride horses, and get a taste of modern cowboy life.
Gros Ventre River Ranch, a dude ranch in Kelly, Wyoming, hosts 30 to 40 guests per week, only during the summer months.
Guests book can book stays at the ranch only for a full period of six nights, from Sunday to Saturday. They can choose between four lodges, four cabins, and a multi-bedroom homestead house.
Rates start at $2,170 per person for six nights, which comes out to about $362 per night, with all meals and activities included. Guests at the ranch can go horseback riding, fly fishing, swimming in a nearby pond, or play games and relax in the main lodge.
On the other end of the spectrum, ultra-wealthy visitors to Jackson Hole can stay at luxury resorts like Amangani, where a night’s stay will cost you between $975 and $2,100 per night.
I took a tour of Amangani and found that its tailored outdoor activities, wellness amenities, and secluded location on a private mountain road inthe least populated state in America gives affluent travelers the privacy and unique experience they crave.
Trying to book a hotel in Jackson made me realize how inaccessible the town is to many tourists.
The 1% might stay at places like Amangani — but when I, a member of the 99%, was looking for a place to stay, I found that a room at the Motel 6 on the outskirts of town cost more than $200 per night — and it was completely booked.
I ended up at the second-cheapest option, the Super 8, for $245 per night.
After seeing so many signs of wealth in Jackson and not many obvious signs of its vast inequality, I wondered where the other 99% lived.
Liebzeit of Jackson Hole Sotheby’s International Realty told me that the communities of Alpine, Wyoming, and Victor, Idaho are much more affordable towns where some of the 99% live.
They’re about 30-35 minutes away and a bus service connects them to Jackson, Liebzeit said.
Victor lies within the borders of theJackson metropolitan area, while Alpine is on the outskirts.
Even though I spent three days in the most unequal place in America, I have to say that spending time in Jackson certainly doesn’t leave you feeling like that’s the case.
The restaurants and shops in town were stylized, polished, and catering to wealthy residents and tourists; the homes were beautiful and well maintained; and tourist amenities like Jackson Hole Mountain Resort were pristine.
Ultimately, I didn’t encounter the glaring signs of wealth inequality that I had been expecting to see in Jackson. That can largely be attributed to the fact that even the bottom 99% are earning well over the state-wide median.
Although the income gap in Jackson is extreme, the spectrum is skewed extremely high because of just how rich the area’s 1% are — with an average income of more than$16.1 million.
The average income of the metro area’s bottom 99%, on the other hand — $122,447 — is still almost double the state ofWyoming’s average income of $62,593.
So while Jackson is technically the most unequal place in America, as far as I could tell, it’s hardly a typical example of stark inequality.
SEE ALSO:The 13 most unequal places in America, ranked
DON'T MISS:A 3-day trip to Jackson Hole during what I thought would be the low season ended up being a valuable lesson in writing off ski towns as winter-only destinations
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