Cape's young workers struggling
By C. Ryan Barber
June 18, 2014 2:00 AM
HYANNIS — They had heard the stories about the young professionals wanting to stay on Cape Cod but drowning under the weight of high housing costs and limited opportunities to advance their careers.
Now, after a yearlong "Shape the Cape" survey of about 5,200 people in Barnstable County, the Cape Cod Young Professionals have data that largely confirm those are the forces pushing young people off-Cape.
The results — which included an online survey, focus groups and five phone interviews with former Cape residents — did uncover a few surprises, however, such as the number of young workers who, although working in their preferred fields, were holding second, or even third jobs.
At its third annual community breakfast today, CCYP is unveiling the initial findings of that survey in hopes that the data will drive a discussion on retaining the Cape's young people and attracting new residents to the region. The organization, formed about nine years ago, wants to be a voice and mentor for the Cape's young professional workers — although it holds to a flexible definition of both "young" and "professional." Its 2013 annual report reports 800 active members.
"When we went into this process we were very clear, not knowing what was going to come out of it, that we wanted to move this conversation from doom and gloom to solutions. That was our intention," said Lisa Guyon, Cape Cod Healthcare's director of community benefits, who serves as president of the CCYP board.
Conducted by the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University, the nearly $32,000 study quantified the gloom and doom: Between 2000 and 2010, the population of Cape residents between ages 25 and 44 fell by nearly 15,000, or about 26.8 percent.
That change outpaced the 12.5 percent decline statewide and the 3.4 percent drop nationally among that age group during the same decade.
"We knew we had to first collect data. We all were aware of the population decline in the 25-to-44-year-old demographic," said Anne Van Vleck, the Cape organization's executive director. "This was CCYP's response to how to reverse that out-migration and reverse that trend."
Guyon said the data confirm that the lack of affordable housing, career opportunities and civic engagement are, in fact, driving young professionals away from the Cape.
But the survey shows in a much deeper and more comprehensive way what some of the challenges are, she said. Without offering specific solutions, it paints an increasing need for mentoring opportunities, room for young workers to advance within a company, housing opportunities for young families and the need to open young residents' eyes to chances to volunteer or get involved in town government.
At today's breakfast, Van Vleck said the organization will announce plans to launch a mentorship program in the fall and hold a civic engagement "boot camp" early next year.
Almost half the people who answered the survey, or 2,461, were between the ages of 25 and 44 and both live and work on the Cape.
The vast majority of that group agreed that the Cape's natural beauty was the most important reason for moving here and staying, but only 34 percent of respondents said they earn a livable wage and have "enough opportunities for promotion or advancement" in their chosen fields, according to the Dukakis Center's analysis.
"Essentially," the report states, "the natural beauty of the Cape and its abundance of recreational opportunities provide a powerful 'pull' to stay on the Cape. However, the lack of good jobs and affordable housing provide a powerful 'push' to leave the Cape."
Slightly more than half of Cape respondents between ages 25 and 44 — nearly 50.8 percent — said they needed to supplement their incomes, in most cases because their primary jobs fell short of covering basic living expenses. Others wanted to have more spending money or add to their savings.
Only about a third of respondents agreed that there were enough career development or mentoring resources. And only 36.6 percent thought there were enough jobs requiring their education or experience.
Yet 78.4 percent of respondents reported that they worked in their desired field — a statistic that came as a pleasant surprise to Guyon and Van Vleck.
Nearly 80 percent of respondents said the Cape needs a four-year college, with 73 percent saying that the Bridgewater State University satellite campus in South Yarmouth — which is due to start classes in January — is "important" or "very important."
The CCYP sees the survey results as just the beginning of reshaping the region to include more young residents. In the fall, the organization plans to hold a series of forums and also gather feedback via email.
"There was nothing really earthshaking in there, but there was some quantification of the sentiment within that age group we're focused on," said Wendy Northcross, president and CEO of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, which awarded the organization a $5,000 grant for the study.
"It's nice to see the age group in jeopardy here take ownership of the issue."
SURVEY AT A GLANCE
47 percent of Cape residents age 25-44 have considered moving off-Cape in the last 12 months
• 78.4 percent reported that they worked in their desired field.
• 82.9 percent said natural beauty was "important" or "very important" in the decision to move to Cape Cod.
• 34 percent "agreed" or "strongly agreed" that their salaries and wages were livable for the Cape
• 50.8 percent of Cape respondents said they needed to supplement their incomes.
Source: Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University
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