One of the most vexing aspects of the COVID-19 experience has been its unknowable-ness. We don’t know how long the situation might last, how it might end (or even if), how it will affect us, what to do… It’s a bottomless well of not just the unknown, but the unknowable.
This creates a nearly-existential problem for not just Jackson Hole residents, but everyone trying to plan for the future (Jackson Hole is special, but we’re not unique). Give us a task to accomplish or a problem to solve, and we know what to do. But COVID-19 strips away that essential foundation, leaving us groping for any bearing or point of purchase.
My desire to help address this fundamental challenge led me to take the two steps I discussed in my last newsletter: create a model of Jackson Hole’s taxable sales economy, and design and administer a “Wisdom of the Crowds” survey of what might happen to our economy over the next year. This newsletter offers the results of both the survey and model.
My efforts were fueled by a hope they might make a difference. In a similar vein, I also hope the results will ultimately prove accurate. But they may not – yet another COVID-19 unknowable. If nothing else, though, I hope the exercise will help those struggling to find their point of purchase for assessing the future – of their families, their professional and social lives, and their communities.
As always, thank you for your interest and support. And please, stay healthy.
Wishing you all the best,
P.S. For those looking for more information about COVID-19 in Teton County, there are two great on-line resources:
jhcovid.com is a clearinghouse of information about everything COVID-related in Jackson Hole, including resources for those needing help.
The Teton County Emergency Management COVID Response Overview offers a dashboard of the latest statistics about how the disease is affecting our community.
The Contents of This Edition
This newsletter has three sections: Summary, Survey, and Model.
“Summary” offers an overview of the methodology and results of both the survey and model.
“Survey” goes into more detail about the survey’s results, which were in turn fed into the model. “Model” offers more detail about what the next year or so may offer for Jackson Hole’s economy.
- Summary Results: Survey and Model
- Survey Results
- Model Results
Two other notes
First, 857 people completed the survey, a number which continues to floor me. To honor and harness that level of interest, for as long as it makes sense I’ll continue to run the survey monthly to see how perceptions are shifting about COVID-19 and the region’s economic future.
Given how quickly everything related to COVID-19 is morphing, I think regular surveying will be crucial to getting a sense of how the community sees our economic future. Certainly the economic and public health landscapes are different today than they were when I started surveying in early April, and things will no doubt change again by early May.
Second, the big caveat. The survey was not designed to capture a statistically valid sample of Jackson Hole or the greater Tetons region. Instead, it was designed to be a “Wisdom of the Crowds” exercise, based on the hope that the combined estimates of a large number of impassioned people might give us a sense of what the future may hold.
It will be a few months before I can compare the results with actual data to see just how wise this particular crowd may be. Until then, it’s perhaps best to use the data as a point of reference, a tool for calibrating your feelings about our future.
Summary Results: Survey and Model
To estimate the effects of COVID-19 on Jackson Hole’s taxable sales economy, I built a model of that economy. To obtain inputs for the model, I then designed and conducted an on-line survey, asking respondents to estimate how the area’s taxable economy will perform in 2020 and into 2021.
Survey results were gathered between April 8-15. 857 people filled out the survey, and key results included:
- “Return to normal”
- 62% of respondents estimate local businesses will not fully re-open until July 1 or later
- 72% of respondents estimate the American public will not feel comfortable resuming car-based vacations until July 1 or later
- 86% of respondents estimate the American public will not feel comfortable resuming airline-based vacations until July 1 or later (and 46% feel it will not be until September 1 or later)
- Compared to 2019, respondents estimate tourism levels will be lower during the rest of 2020
- Spring 2020: a 69% drop
- Summer 2020: a 42% drop
- Autumn 2020: a 26% drop
- Winter 2020/21: a 19% drop
- Personal finances
- 20% of respondents reported living “paycheck to paycheck”
- Respondents anticipate earning 14% less in 2020 than in 2019, and spending 14% less as well.
The survey results were fed into the model. Key findings included:
- An estimated 39% drop in Teton County, Wyoming’s taxable sales in 2020 (versus 2019)
- Spring 2020: a 67% drop
- Summer 2020: a 48% drop
- Autumn 2020: a 36% drop
- Winter 2020/21: a 28% drop
- Because of this decline in sales taxes, the model suggests the Town of Jackson’s operating revenues will drop 40% in FY 2021
The combined results of the survey and model suggest four key points:
- Jackson Hole’s overall taxable sales economy will likely experience significant contraction in 2020, on the order of 40%
- The summer tourism season will likely be slow, and have a late start
- Locals will earn and spend around 14% less in 2020, further slowing the local economy.
- Local government revenues are heavily dependent on sales taxes (e.g., sales taxes account for 75% of the Town of Jackson’s general fund revenues, and lodging taxes for another 5%). As a result, local government will likely see a marked decrease in FY 2021 revenues, and concomitantly be forced to markedly reduce expenditures.
Personal finance estimates
As a group, respondents anticipate having their income fall 14% in 2020; ditto their level of personal spending.
With one clear exception, these percentages did not vary much between different sub-groups. The exception was between those whose employment has not been affected by COVID-19 and those who have either lost their job or seen their job pared back. Not surprisingly, the latter group has the biggest anticipated income loss – 21% – and the biggest anticipated mean expenditure reduction: 16%. In contrast, those who are currently employed see a mean income loss of 10%, and expenditure declines of 13%.
That even those who are still employed anticipate an average drop in wages of 10% hints at the level of collective economic anxiety being felt in the community.
Returning to “normal”
To state the obvious, it is not clear what “the new normal” will be, nor when we will get there.
For starters, though, “normal” cannot begin to emerge until all of Jackson Hole’s businesses are re-opened. Only 38% of all respondents see that happening before the beginning of July, with a plurality targeting the first half of July. What’s striking is that roughly 1/6 of respondents – the second-largest group of respondents – don’t see Jackson Hole’s businesses fully re-opening until the fall.
Respondents share a similar view about when Americans will once again feel comfortable-cum-safe enough to start traveling by car. There’s not a lot of optimism for seeing a June-or-earlier surge; nearly half of respondents see the collective ease being reached between July 1 and August 15. Here again, though, the second-largest group of respondents don’t see things recovering until the fall.
And then there’s flying. Nearly half of respondents don’t see Americans collectively becoming comfortable flying again until autumn, and fully 1/3 don’t see it happening before October. If these feelings pan out, it will result in an extraordinary decline for air service at the Jackson Hole Airport, which last summer alone tallied about as many enplanements as in all of 2000.
857 respondents completed the survey
- 81% live in Teton County, WY, and 13% in the greater Tetons region
- The time respondents have lived in the Tetons region ranges from a few months to 80 years, with a median of 20 years.
- 66% of all respondents are currently employed full-time, 13% part-time, 1% unemployed, and 18% are retired.
- 56% have not lost their jobs for COVID-19-related reasons, 9% have lost their jobs, and 21% are working less than before the virus struck
- Of those working, 70% work in Teton County, WY, 10% do not, and 19% found the question Not Applicable
- 23% own their own businesses, 17% are self-employed, 42% work for a business they don’t own, and 18% are retired
- 60% hold one job, 13% hold two jobs, and 7% hold three or more
- 53% work in the private sector, 15% in the non-profit sector, and 15% in the public sector
- The mean household income earned by respondents = $279,000 (versus $290,000 reported in 2017 IRS tax returns)
- 13% have a household income of <$50,000 (v. 51% in 2017 IRS filings)
- 29% have a household income of $50,000 – $100,000 (v. 23%)
- 38% have a household income of $100,000 – $200,000 (v. 13%)
- 22% have a household income of >$200,000 (v. 13%)
- 20% feel they are living paycheck to paycheck; 75% do not
- Of those who feel they are living paycheck to paycheck
- 1% have a household income of <$10,000
- 5% have a household income of $10,000-$25,000
- 19% have a household income of $25,000-$50,000
- 17% have a household income of $50,000-$75,000
- 19% have a household income of $75,000-$100,000
- 16% have a household income of $100,000-$150,000
- 8% have a household income of <$150,000-$200,000
- 3% have a household income of <$200,000-$300,000
- Of those who feel they are living paycheck to paycheck
- To gather responses, the survey was publicized through five channels: social media (Facebook and Instagram), an Op-Ed in the Jackson Hole News&Guide; e-mail blasts over the list serves of Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce and Community Foundation of Jackson Hole, and this e-newsletter
- Given these channels, and given the limited demographic information solicited in the survey, it seems likely that as a group, the survey’s respondents have lived in Jackson Hole longer than the community as a whole, and are older, better-off, and less racially-diverse than the overall community.
- If true, this suggests that, compared to respondents, the community as a whole is experiencing higher rates of COVID-19-related unemployment, underemployment, and working multiple jobs.
- Running several cross-tabulations, the most striking result was how little the various sub-groups’ views differed from one another. Rich or poor, employed or unemployed, local or non-resident, sub-groups’ views were similar.
The taxable sales model estimates how much sales tax will be generated in Teton County from Wyoming’s basic 4% sales tax.
For the fiscal year ending in February, 2020, Wyoming’s 4% tax generated $66,339,508, reflecting $1.66 billion in total taxable sales in Teton County.
Building on this, the model’s baseline assumption was no growth; i.e., that the taxable sales in each month in 2020 and 2021 would be the same as in 2019. The two exceptions to this rule were January and February 2020, which had been completed by the time the model was developed (both showed strong growth over 2019).
The model was run twice: once using the survey’s seasonal estimates of changes in visitation and spending; and once using the survey’s monthly estimates. The two sets of figures produced strikingly similar results: Using the seasonal figures, the model estimated a 38.1% drop in total taxable sales for 2020; using the monthly figures, the estimate was 38.9%. In the interests of brevity, the figures below show the results for the monthly figures.