JACKSON, Wyo. — It's crazy in Jackson, Wyoming. Cars stretch for miles trying to get into the town.
“It took us like an hour to get to our friend's house from the airport. It was bumper-to-bumper traffic. She’s lived here for 25 years and said this is crazy,” said one tourist.
Forget trying to get a table for a meal in less than an hour.
“Everything’s full, and just now, I was starving; I wanted to get food, and it looks like, there’s at least an hour wait,” said another tourist.
Mark Sexton and other staff in the service industry bear the brunt of it. He’s the general manager at Pinky G’s Pizza in town. He says a lot of people are overworked. On top of that, they can’t afford to live within a reasonable driving distance.
“The rent is something that’s driven a lot of workers away,” said Sexton. “For a little studio apartment, to have to pay $1,800 and then have to share it with other people, you know. We’re on the level of San Fran and L.A. and New York, and it’s a small mountain town.”
According to ApartmentFinder.com, the average rent for a studio in Jackson is $1,852; for a 1-bedroom, it’s almost $2,400, and a 3-bedroom is more than $3,600.
Compare those to the national averages, where a studio is about $1,600, a 1 bedroom $1,700, and three bedrooms, just above $2,000.
That means restaurants like Pinky G’s are basically hiring people off the street with little time for training.
“We just got two new hires, one from Romania and I took in a high schooler on the pizza line today.”
“The issue of not being able to afford or live in the cities in which they work is something that’s been around for a long time, especially in the big cities,” said Mac Clouse, a professor at the business school at the University of Denver.
“What’s happening now is we’re starting to see that spread into other cities. The rising prices are forcing some of those people out to other places,” said Clouse. “Housing prices are going up much faster than wages are.”
Home prices in the U.S. are up a record 13% compared to 2020, according to Zillow.
The prices are even higher in places like Jackson, rural communities that don’t necessarily have the infrastructure to support massive spikes. That includes the workforce infrastructure. Right now, Clouse says having a full staff is the closest thing to a solution.
“Short-term, many employers are actually increasing wages,” said Clouse.
“Competition is this biggest thing. This restaurant is paying $23 per hour. This restaurant is paying $25 per hour for a line-level cook without experience,” said Sexton.
But wage increases come out of someone’s pockets, whether it’s the customer's or the business owner's.
“Anything that’s a mom and pop that can’t afford a corporate salary for their managers or higher wages for their line staff. It’s a little insane, a little insane right now,” said Sexton.