A close study of the economy of the Methow Valley reveals striking disparities in income and attitudes between residents who live and work here full-time, and people who are part-time residents and/or part-time workers. distance.
The economic disparity is clearly evident in a comparison of the average incomes of locally employed residents and people who derive their income from outside the Methow Valley.
The median household income for families living and working in the Methow Valley is $57,779, with nearly 60% of working families earning less than $55,000 per year.
In contrast, the median income reported by remote workers was $202,000, nearly four times the income of most locally employed residents.
This stark difference was one of the most startling findings of the study by Julie Tate-Libby, who conducted the economics research for TwispWorks over an 18-month period.
“I knew that teleworkers were going to make more money than locals. I had a theory of what it was going to be. The actual results blew me away. I had no idea it would be $200,000 versus $55,000,” TwispWorks director of programming Tate-Libby said. “For people who have lived in the Methow Valley for a very long time, who live and work and depend on the Methow Valley for wages, the gap is getting bigger and bigger.”
Titled “A Comprehensive Economic Study of the Methow Valley”, the report was commissioned by the TwispWorks Board of Directors to identify how the valley is changing and how those changes affect the people who live and work here. Throughout 2020 and 2021, information was collected through surveys of residents, business owners and employees; listening sessions and community events; and analysis of data on tourism, real estate, population, housing and other sources. More than 1,000 residents gave their opinion.
The residents’ survey received 708 responses; 267 were retired or mostly retired, 213 worked remotely or with a partner employed in the Methow Valley, and 229 said they were entirely locally employed.
Struggling with change
The study examines economic influences including valley demographics, tourism, vacation homes, local businesses, residential construction and housing. It also delves into an area that has not been explored in depth in other studies of the Methow Valley – the attitudes and concerns of different categories of residents – locally employed, retired or semi-retired, and remote workers.
The various groups were interviewed in surveys of personal well-being, quality of life and the future of the Methow Valley. Their differences in perception reveal a community grappling with the changes it is undergoing.
“The Wellbeing Index and quality of life measures suggest that those with less financial and social capital feel less engaged or welcome in the community than those with higher means,” the report said. “Whether for reasons related to socioeconomic class, political orientation, or residency status, feelings of social alienation are an undercurrent to the mainstream narrative that everyone loves the Methow and that there are many ways to get involved.”
Differences of opinion between different types of residents were also evident in attitudes towards environmental and social issues. “Local residents were more concerned about overcrowding, gentrification, and the disappearance of farmland, while retirees and remote workers were more concerned about climate change and wildfires,” the report said.
In polls, local residents showed more concern about all social issues than retirees or remote workers. For example, 18% of local residents were very concerned about increasing poverty, compared to only 5% of remote workers, and 22% of local residents said affordable housing was very concerning, compared to 8% of remote workers. distance.
Asked about the future of the Methow Valley, gentrification emerged as the biggest issue in the residents’ survey. “Comments about gentrification had to do with the rising cost of homes, increasing economic disparities, the feeling that the Methow is becoming like Jackson Hole or Aspen, and the differences between urban and rural residents,” the report said. .
“Overall, comments from residents about their thoughts and concerns for the future of the valley illustrate a clear consensus on the negative impact of more people moving into the valley and what it could become,” Tate-Libby wrote.
The report quantifies, for the first time, the concerns and opinions of the different categories of inhabitants of the valley. “To date, no other survey in the Methow Valley has targeted its second home or remote worker population or received so many qualitative comments or respondents in a variety of social positions,” Tate said. -Libby.
Excerpts from the report listed below offer insight into the current state of the Methow Valley and its people, as well as the impacts of what the report calls “rural restructuring common in recreation areas and likely to s ‘deepen in the future’.
• Over 1,000 homes have been built in the Methow watershed between 2005 and 2020, most in unincorporated areas. The report counted 2,650 full-time residences and 1,966 part-time residences, with an estimated population of 6,400 full-time residents and 4,380 part-time residents.
• Resident surveys suggest that nearly a third of Valley residents (31%) are either totally remote workers or supported by a spouse or partner who derives at least some of their income from outside of the valley.
• Growth in the Methow has been fueled by “amenity migration” – the movement of people in search of community and a way of life – particularly since the onset of COVID-19.
• “The impact of remote workers on the housing market in 2020 cannot be overstated.” During the summer of 2020, real estate sales broke all existing records.
• Part-time residents are spending more time in the Methow than previously thought, and the lack of available homes for sale or rent is directly correlated to amenity migration. “While amenity migrants are highly educated and bring a great deal of cultural capital to the Methow Valley, they also change the location they find so desirable.”
• The Methow Valley has an aging population, with nearly 40% over the age of 60, partly due to the influx of retirees. In total, 60% of the population is not of working age, which contributes to a shortage of workers and a shrinking workforce.
• Demographic trends show an increase in poverty among families with children and among working families in general in the Methow Valley. Poverty rates are higher in Winthrop, with 48% of families earning less than $35,000/year, compared to 39% in Twisp.
• Wages in the Methow Valley have not kept pace with the rising cost of homes and property. “Wealth is concentrated in new residents, while long-time residents and local families face growing economic disparity.”
• Like many rural areas, the Methow Valley is experiencing a “brain drain” as 85-90% of Liberty Bell High School graduates leave for college or technical training. Most do not return due to low wages and lack of job opportunities in the valley.
• The valley has about 525 small businesses, employing nearly 1,000 people. More than half of businesses are owned by women and 40% have no employees.
• While the Methow Valley depends on tourism, this represents only 25% of the total economy. The construction industry contributes by far the largest cash flow in terms of sales and expenses (46% of the economic base), but only 9% in terms of employment.
• Approximately 476,746 visitors spend the night in the Methow Valley each year. Tourism spending totals $69.7 million and creates approximately 450 jobs related to tourism or services.
• The residential construction industry generates $113 million per year on average in the Methow Valley economy, and reached $145 million in 2020.
“The big picture of the Methow economy that this study gives us really highlights the changes in the population at every level,” said Sarah Brown, executive director of TwispWorks.
“Only 40% of the population of the valley is of working age; the extreme income differences have really highlighted our housing and cultural issues as well as the need to support job training and a more diverse economy,” Brown said.
“The news about income inequality, especially the growing number of our families and children struggling with poverty and hunger, was stark and highlights a broken system,” she said.
“In light of the structural changes taking place in the Methow Valley,” Tate-Libby suggested five areas for action in her report.
They include solving an affordable housing crisis; develop support systems for the aging population and create incentives for young locals to stay or return to the Methow Valley; and investing in affordable child care to help families and ease labor shortages.
Tate-Libby, who focused on amenity migration in her doctoral research, also recommended measures to reduce the valley’s economic dependence on residential construction and property sales, which depend scarce water resources. She suggested investing in agricultural tourism and locally created value-added products.
She also recommended addressing the differences between local residents and new residents and part-time residents, and wrote in the report: “As we have seen, there is a marked difference in attitudes between residents and an undercurrent of tension between the haves and the have-nots. ”
Its report called for “a renewed commitment to educating our population about the socio-economic diversity that exists, the issues of housing, child care, living wages and the differences in attitudes between people (to) enrich the experience of residents and highlight existing socio-economic divides”. .”
The report can be viewed online at twispworks.org.