People in Jackson think May and June will mirror March and April in terms of economic activity, and many predict the harm of the COVID-19 pandemic will continue into next winter and beyond.

The 857 respondents to a survey forecast that summer business will be down 42%, autumn will fall by 26% and even the winter of 2020-21 will be off by 19%.

The survey also found 20% of respondents are living “paycheck to paycheck,” and they think their income and spending will fall 14% this year compared with 2019. Nine percent said they had lost their jobs because of the coronavirus, and 21% said they were working less and making less as a result.

The survey was done by Jonathan Schechter, a Jackson Town Council member, and longtime economic consultant and activist who runs the nonprofit Charture Institute. Results show “people are worried about their health, worried about business ... worried about the community,” Schechter said.

He said the survey wasn’t perfectly scientific, but the large number of people taking part gives a good reflection of public opinion.

The answers offer a way to “get past this point of inchoate worrying and have some sort of target to aim for,” rather than just sitting around and feeling bad, Schechter said.

People answering also foresaw big trouble for local governments, which depend on sales taxes generated largely by tourism for more than 75% of their budgets. Survey respondents thought local taxable sales this year would fall 39% compared with 2019, with a 67% decrease in the spring, a 48% drop in summer, 36% in autumn and even a drop of 28% in the next winter.

Taxable sales in the county equaled $1.66 billion in the year that ended in February. The local share of Wyoming’s 4% sales tax amounted to just over $66.33 million.

Schechter’s survey was done online: 81% of those answering were Teton County residents, and another 13% lived in the region. Of the 66% employed full time and 13% part time, 70% worked in the county. Forty percent were business owners or self-employed, 42% worked for another business. Nearly three-quarters had incomes between $50,000 and $200,000 a year. Based on information provided, Schechter concluded that respondents were generally older, better off and less racially diverse than the overall community.

Among other findings:

• 38% of respondents said Jackson would return to “normal” by the end of June, but 40% said July or August, and 23% said not until September or later.

• 50% said Americans won’t feel at ease about taking a driving vacation until July or August; 22% said not even then.

• 40% said Americans won’t be comfortable flying until July or August, and more than a quarter will be uneasy into the fall.

Beyond the survey, Schechter recently examined stats about the number of people getting on airplanes in Jackson and the number of businesspeople seeking summer help. Both statistics indicate that the coronavirus will hit the local economy hard in the coming months.

The numbers were for passenger traffic at Jackson Hole Airport and “help wanted” classified ads appearing in the Jackson Hole News&Guide. Schechter said the two figures are an early indicator of slow business this summer, ahead of the more exact but lagging reports of sales tax collections in Teton County.

Schechter found sudden and huge declines in both numbers.

In March, as the national economy staggered in response to stay-at-home orders, enplanements at Jackson airport fell 45%, even though local ski resorts were open half the month and the economic fallout was just beginning.

Enplanements had been rising sharply, tracking increasing business activity and tax collections. They were up 42% from February 2016 to February 2020, a compounded annual growth rate of 9.1%.

Schechter has used News&Guide classifieds in the past to track business activity and confidence. His look at the March 11 edition of the paper found 698 column inches of “help wanted” ads, the most since May 2019.

But in only a month, the inch count fell to 116, down 83% and a drop of 86% over the same week the previous year.

The mix of jobs also was interesting, he said. The fall in job ads showed a strong decline in tourism jobs such as lodging, restaurants and retail, with more help wanted in the remaining ads for health care, landscaping and maintenance. Tourism “help wanted” ads fell about 99% in the four weeks.

“Businesses have cut back because they don’t know what’s going on,” Schechter said this week.

The survey method was based on one pioneered by Francis Galton, an English scientist and statistician, and a cousin of Charles Darwin. Galton experimented at a livestock show by asking about 800 people to guess the weight of an ox. Most people were far off, but Galton showed that averaging a large number of guesses often leads to a fairly accurate answer.

“If you ask enough people to make a guess you can make a pretty good estimate of what’s going to happen,” Schechter said. With the results of his survey, he said, “you can start wrapping your mind around something and start planning, start talking about solving a problem, no matter how big or scary it might be.”

He plans to repeat the survey in mid-May. A more complete look at his report can be found at his website, JS4JH.com.

Contact Mark Huffman at 732-5907 or mark@jhnewsandguide.com.

Mark Huffman edits copy and occasionally writes some, too. He's been a journalist since newspapers had typewriters and darkrooms.

(2) comments

Michael Grasseschi

at first the survey didn't make all that much chance to Bessie with 9% saying they were unemployed, but then when I found out that these were all people who made more money and we're older, then it felt like it really wasn't representing the true demographics of Jackson very well. It would be very interesting to see what happened if you took the 25% that work in that group and turn them into just one aggregate bunch with their projections for the future... In other words those who have money and jobs are in the minority here and yet somehow this is supposed to represent all of us?

TERRENCE MILAN

Too much uncertainty now for people to start planning a trip. A lot of people have cancelled Spring vacations and simply lost their money. Given that, vacationers are most likely going to wait until the last moment before they book and pay half for a stay that they might never use.

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