- The Jackson, Wyoming, metropolitan area 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 average 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, on average, 132 times as much as 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 statewide median.
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Instead, it’s a tiny Western resort town where billionaires go to ski: Jackson, Wyoming.
A 2018 report published by the Economic Policy Institute found that in the Jackson metro area, which encompasses Teton County in Wyoming and Teton County in Idaho, the wealthiest residents make, on average, 132 times as much as 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.
Compared with the commonly used Gini coefficient measure of inequality, EPI’s measure captures very high incomes better because, as the report said, “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 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, on average, 132 times as much as everyone else, according to the EPI report.
I drove down from Montana and passed through Idaho.
I had to drive through the iconic Grand Teton mountain range to get to Jackson.
Jackson sits in the middle of the Jackson Hole valley, which is between two mountain ranges: the Teton range and the Gros Ventre range.
Jackson Hole is known for its world-class skiing.
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.
When I visited, the streets of Jackson were brimming 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 way 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 are four elk-antler arches, which make for popular photo ops.
One shop sells hundreds of cowboy hats in varying colors and styles.
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.
The high end of the housing market is growing faster than ever, with more than 30 homes currently listed for $10 million or more in Jackson Hole, Liebzeit said.
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 are Wall Street types who work in private equity and venture capital, Liebzeit said.
Many celebrities and high-profile people have also bought homes in Jackson Hole.
Wealthy Americans may be drawn to Jackson for its tax benefits as well as its natural beauty.
Liebzeit calls Wyoming “the most tax-friendly state in the country” because it has no 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 10 minutes from the town of Jackson. Yellowstone National Park is about a 40-minute drive.
At the national parks, visitors can go camping, hiking, fishing, biking, boating, climbing, horseback riding, and cross-country skiing in the winter.
The Jackson metro area is served by Jackson Hole Airport in Grand Teton National Park.
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 aerial tram, which climbs 4,139 vertical feet 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.
At a dude ranch, or guest ranch, 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 can book stays at the ranch for only six nights, from Sunday to Saturday. They can choose among four lodges, four cabins, and a multibedroom homestead.
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, or swimming in a nearby pond, or they can 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.
I took a tour of Amangani and found that its tailored outdoor activities, wellness amenities, and secluded location on a private mountain road in the 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, were much more affordable towns where some of the 99% live.
They’re about 30 to 35 minutes away, and a bus service connects them to Jackson, Liebzeit said.
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.