Sorry, bub. You’re not the first to experience this lightning strike of common sense. Folks have been moving to Bozeman long before I ever did, and they’ve been exploring the mountains, rivers, forests and sagebrush looking for the good life just about as long as anyone can remember.
Don’t you think millions of Americans would do the same thing if they could afford to pull up stakes like some modern, dust-bowl refugees and escape this societal dumpster fire currently raging throughout our country?
Well, actually it’s been happening for quite a while now. Check out Bozeman’s local job postings for a few hundred reasons why an even greater influx of wealthy, possibly diseased telecommuters who stash money is a bad idea. Here, you’ll see plenty of jobs in the service industry paying between $10 and $15 per hour, but very few offering career benefits or a livable wage. In fact, Montana’s median wage is just $20.47 (according to the DLI), which is one of the lowest in the nation.
Factor in the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment, $1,200, and the average cost for a single-family home, $510,000, and you’ll quickly see the economics are grim for working-class people in our community. There are very few affordable housing options, and urban sprawl continues to creep into valley pasturelands under the guise of overpriced tract homes with cheap finishes as far as the eye can see.
So, what’s a good Montanan to do? Thank our wealthy benefactors who have decided to grace us with their metropolitan cash in exchange for fresh air, good fishing, and fewer coronavirus cases? Placate them with more breweries and restaurants? Perhaps we just train our workforce to build bigger and more ostentatious mountain lodges for them to hunker down in, complete with elk-antler chandeliers and wrought-iron sculptures of eagles and rams?
Or, do we take this time to better organize and pay teachers, find safer ways to educate our students (who are threatened by the same outbreak of disease, despite contrary rumors), pump our economic stimulus dollars into new business ventures, build attractive affordable housing, and figure out how to bring high-paying jobs into Montana?
Are you ready to buy a ticket out of this pandemic? Which ticket is Montana trying to sell you?
Man, this "affordability" condition isn't anything new and has existed in the popular fishing areas of Montana for decades. I recall in the mid 90's Steve Probasco telling me he'd moved to Montana for the lifestyle, and within a year had to leave because he couldn't find a job. I've known many folks who moved to Missoula or Bozeman or (fill in the blank) trouty spot in Montana, just to leave within a year because the jobs available couldn't support expenses.
And, the writer asks "What's a good Montanan to do?" The writer could very well be a transplant. After how man years living in Montana does one become a "Montanan"?
I don't have a solution. Sad to say, affordability is a condition often realized by many places that offer an attractive outdoor lifestyle.