Flipping through the latest Jackson, Wyoming classified ads reveals an all too common phenomenon: there are currently hundreds of seasonal, low-paying jobs advertised while literally no affordable housing options are listed.
JH News & Guide economic analyst Johnathan Schechter watches the situation closely and recently declared, “There ain’t enough housing for low-wage workers. In fact, the demand versus supply problem is poised to be historically awful.”
This unbalanced and unfortunate phenomenon is decades old, but in recent years it has gotten much worse as Teton County’s tourist trade and real estate market have grown to record levels. The local boom came in unsurprising sync with the Federal Reserve’s ongoing market-inflating, wealth-consolidating, currency-printing “QE Infinity” scam.
Unfortunately, most of the digital wealth generated by global funny money manufacturing has gone into the hands of people who are already rich. For example, according to the Wall Street Journal, at least 95% of income gains from 2009-2012 went to the wealthiest 1% of Americans.
Locally, in 2012 Teton County total income more than doubled 2011 levels: it rose from $2 billion to $4.4 billion in 2012.
Unfortunately, of the 2.4 billion dollar income increase, 98 percent of it — $2,357,000,000 — was brought in by Teton County households making more than $200,000 annually, according to JH News and Guide Economist Johnathan Schechter.
Schecter continues, “That same year 62 percent of Teton County households earned $50,000 or less. Their average income was $35,810, just 1 percent of the average income of local households making over $200,000 annually.” (italics mine.)
Long and disturbing story short, the global rich once again drastically increased their wealth which made the cost of living go up globally, especially in billionaire playgrounds like Jackson Hole. Wages for Jacksonites who actually work local jobs did NOT increase on par with cost of living. Most of us actually got poorer at a time when countywide income more than doubled because we now have to pay more for rent, utilities, food, property taxes, etc.
The rich got much richer by making everyone else a little bit poorer. That’s the way it works. Similar trends played out nationally and globally as they have time and again throughout human history. Greed and corruption are nothing new, and they sure are getting old.
Many people reading this probably haven’t noticed the downward trend in global quality of life because — in reality — our slowly dropping collective living standard is the composite of billions of individual fates. We all move forward through time with our quality of life bouncing up and down like stock prices: a few of us are up, more of us are down, some of us experience extreme volatility, and all too many of us have suffered flash crashes of intense personal loss, uncertainty, and depression by being thrust into homelessness or slightly less hopeless living situations.
I know from personal experience. Many of my friends and co-workers do too. I’m not complaining, just explaining how I learned to be homeless and happy simultaneously. After all, that’s what this article is actually about: we already know the existing economic system is a total scam.
Driven by a desire to spend less of my life working to pay bills and more of it actually living, I have a history of skidding pretty hard — sometimes by choice — and sometimes out of necessity.
One of the easiest ways to save a little money is by cutting bills to an absolute minimum: no rent, no utilities, no healthcare makes for more healthy food, more gas money, and more nuts to squirrel away inside a pickup truck wickiup.
My first three years in the valley were crammed into crappy houses with fellow ski bums. It was not a healthy living situation but it sure was fun for a while. Plus, the price seemed right at the time: my rent and utilities worked out to about $500 per month.
I walked right into affordable and comfortable accommodations a decade ago, but today local housing that good is less easy to come by. Most of the classic skid cribs have been torn down and replaced by overpriced condos. Even the seediest local apartment complexes have been given face-lifts to justify raising rents.
Eventually I couldn’t stand the noise, clutter, and filth of Sigma Nu Omega (SNO) frat life anymore. Seeking solitude I moved into an insulated, windowless, side yard storage shed. I paid the utilities for the skid crib duplex next door. I had my own tiny house complete with fenced-in yard, semi-effective laundry, dirty bathroom, filthy pool, terrifying kitchen, and sick climbing gym. My monthly nut worked out to about $150 in the summer, $250 in the winter. It was a good setup.
As an aside, some variation on shed life seems like a great way to go long term. I think the global tiny house movement reflects this fact. Whether communally-oriented or self-sufficient, smaller homes seems smart. Now back to the story.
Shed life was awesome. Unfortunately, a few years later our landlady found out about the man in the shed, and I got the boot.
I opted to give van life a try instead of returning to flushing 30-50% of my monthly income down someone else’s crapper by embracing an annoying mass hallucination called “rent”.
Van life sucked at first, but it got better as I got better at it.
I ate and showered at my day job. I slept and laundered at my night job. When not at work I was out camping or unwinding with a girlfriend. Stacking nightly nuts with no monthly spillage was nice, but — no matter how good I got at van life — it still sucked to officially be on the wrong side of the law and scorned by squares for skidding “too hard”.
Over time that sense of ostracism made me an outcast, semi-nomadic and jaded. I needed to get away from where I didn’t feel welcome, so I traded in my van to try my hand aboard a similarly-sized sailboat.
At the time — spring of 2008 — the JH real estate market had reached it’s previous peak, and a nationwide crash was bound to come. There was a feeding frenzy going on. Working class folks were lunging for the short end of the home-ownership-stick just as the banksters wound up to break the housing market in half over their backs.
At the time it seemed like all JH locals talked about was real estate speculation. As a downtown bartender I couldn’t get away from such uninspiring conversations and painful realizations without drastically getting lost. I didn’t want the Great Recession to get its painful paws of me, so…
I sold most of my stuff and bought a 1973 Catalina 27′ in Portland, OR for $5k. I spent a summer Med moored to Hood River’s Wells Island before taking off for a year and a half of sailing to and around Central America.
I was totally broke and living hand to mouth, but I had the time of my life when I remembered not to stress the small stuff or uncertainties about the future. I learned a lot about myself and about life. It was great.
With my batteries at full charge I returned to Jackson Hole and — drum roll, please — moved back into the same shed I had gotten booted out of a few years before. I met a lady who skidded even harder than I did: shortly after shacking up she moved into the shed with me to avoid paying pointless rent. They don’t teach Modern Home Economics 101 in school, do they?
We made it happily there in the shed for a year until the land lady came around again, and I opted to transition back to van life. I could have found a place to live, but camping out voluntarily was pretty comfortable because my lady returned to renting and let me lean on our relationship. Thanks, Sweetie.
A few years of experimenting with various states of outmoreness (aka homelessness) ensued. I worked a ton and had money, but appealing, affordable rental situations were now in shortening supply. More often than not I was a van dweller, but it didn’t feel so voluntary anymore. Also, increased enforcement of local laws and regulations made van life more miserable than it had been before. Living in a car with no place to park is a whopping mindfuck.
After another year of outlaw skidding I was once again fed up with the Hole scenario, so I took a job in LA assisting investigative journalist Michael C. Ruppert.
We were only scheduled to be in LA for another two months while Mike finished up a film project, so I opted to live in my van instead of paying first, last, and deposit to a landlord willing to rent extremely short term. I got filthy in the ocean every morning and showered publicly in the cold ones by the Venice Jetty. There was a community of local homeless people, and my job took up most of my time, so it was better than expected.
LAPD hassled me a few times for sleeping in my old van with Wyoming plates, so I bought another small sailboat to live on. My plan was to fix the boat up for another epic sailing adventure or to escape an ugly American apocalypse brought on by economic collapse, whichever came first.
Unfortunately, the overpriced Marina Del Rey strictly enforced their no live-aboards policy, so I experienced the strange situation of both owning a home and renting a place to park it — $450 per month plus utilities — while not actually being allowed to live on it. Wow.
Thankfully, a month later my work took the van, the boat, and I to coastal Sonoma County where the lady from the shed returned and helped me build a home. Among the vineyards and pot farms on the Occidental fogline we experimented with coastal van dwelling, depressed fishing village marina live-aboarding, and organic doomsteading with the literal King of the Doomtards himself.
By this point I was not just a student, but a connoisseur of low-cost, semi-nomadic, experimental living situations. Things had gotten so ridiculous that I finally learned to laugh at myself and the strange situations I found myself in.
The waves were alright but the snow didn’t exist on California’s fabled Sierra “Nevada” due to the ongoing geoengineered drought. As such, Jackson’s powdery peaks eventually called me back home again. In the time since they have apparently called every other skier from or currently residing in California as well: the snow drought there must be ended to quell the tide of invading hordes from the West.
I couch surfed the tail end of a great Wyoming winter, lived out of my van that summer, and found two stunning reasons to try settling down again that fall.
Fifteen months of homefulness later I was a productive, rent-paying, and vocal member of the community. Life was definitely better with a home, but I had also learned to be happy while homeless… or so I’d thought.
I had desired and manifested a much sought after rental situation: the elusive house at the top of the hill overlooking town. It was expensive, so I had several roomies and we all worked a lot to save very little. We just squeaked by like a family of mice gratefully getting it good until the cat comes home. Then, the cat came home.
Like many other locals, I got booted out of my house last spring.
A local dirt pimp convinced my landlord to sell his unlisted home to some tax-dodging tourists who could telecommute to work. My lease came up June 15th. I badly needed a home for Maestra and I, but nothing materialized despite months of searching.
I was forced to live out of my truck, and — at first — I hated it because it was not by choice at all.
Then I discovered a secret that made things much better. It’s a secret that only the most truly homeless people are aware of.
And, ye! Despite coming to terms with an involuntary homeless situation by way of my empowering realization, still I searched and searched, but there was no room at the inn for one more man with a well behaved, lovable, and prophetic dog. Jackson’s housing crisis had reached truly Biblical proportions.
It wasn’t always like this. The incredible area now known as Jackson Hole has been inhabited since the glaciers receded 12,000 years ago. For 99.5% of that time there were no jobs, no classified ads, no McMansions, no “affordable housing units”, no RVs, no tourons, no billionaires, and every one of the truest Wyoming Natives living in Jackson Hole would have been classified as homeless by today’s standards.
One hundred percent homelessness and 0% paid employment sounds awful to the modern ear, but it was apparently pretty awesome: people lived here in harmony with the natural world for thousands of years. They left the place as pristine as they found it, and in doing so they succeeded in ways we modern humans can only dream of.
The most wealthy and powerful modern men cannot even control themselves, let alone steer our civilization towards a truly sustainable system. Our current banksters and politicians would proudly proclaim the Sheepeaters “exemplary” and their lands “protected” before proceeding to destroy their culture and steal their resources.
It wouldn’t be the first time: Yellowstone National Park was Sheepeater territory sacred to dozens of other Native tribes until it was stolen by Congress and the US Army in 1872. Contrary to American History 101, Yellowstone wasn’t set aside because it was beautiful: it was stolen and shelved because free geothermal energy threatened the coal and timber barons’ monopoly on powering a steam-driven industrialist society. Think about it.
Let’s not forget that the historical record has been spun and whitewashed. Let us not forget who was here first, the lessons they tried teach us, and the wisdom we haven’t earned yet:
As a semi-nomadic modern man and student of the Sheepeaters, I seek out an understanding of what life was really like in wiser times. How can we apply ancient wisdom to making things better now?
Unfortunately, that question is currently on hold for me — and maybe for you too — because I actually have to go work at one of my three uninspiring jobs right now. I bartend at two community landmarks and work construction. I generally work 8 shifts over the course of 6 days every week.
Maybe I work too much? Maybe modern life costs too much.
Maybe you were enjoying reading this article — I have certainly enjoyed writing it — but it doesn’t pay the bills.
Support your local Sheepeaters or don’t be surprised when they shut up entirely and load the dogs into their pickup truck wickiups to head deeper into the hills. It’s tempting: I could be home less and out more instead of busting my hump for paper to pay bills.
At present I spend more time working than I do anything else. When I find time to do the work I am truly called to do I am so tired and scatterbrained from all that wage slaving that I can’t answer my calling effectively or completely.
It’s certainly a dilemma, but I’m not alone in it and neither are you. That’s why you’re still reading this.
Stay tuned for part two where I guarantee I’ll actually get around to explaining The Art of Being Happy While Homeless in Jackson Hole…
One Love. Peace