Lost youth: New report examines exodus of young people from Cape
The population in Barnstable County (215,423) is declining (3 percent since 2000) and the fastest losses are in the 25 to 44-age category. Can anything be done to stem the exodus of young people from Cape Cod?
By Jamie Balliett
Posted Jun. 30, 2014 @ 11:33 am
Updated at 11:39 AM
It’s been seven years since demographer Peter Francese issued a warning regarding the erosion of a segment of Cape Cod’s population.
It was in 2007 when he concluded that an inhospitable environment for those aged 25 to 44 who could not surmount the high price of housing, the lack of professional jobs, a limited public transportation system, and insufficient and expensive child care options were collectively driving a generation from the Cape and threatening the area’s economic and social systems.
His message reverberated from Woods Hole to Provincetown. A handful of endeavors have tried to address the complex issues behind a demographic shift that started at least 20 years ago, leaving retirees as the dominant segment of the population and second home owners claiming upwards of fifty percent in most Cape towns.
One nonprofit called the Cape Cod Young Professionals has emerged as the leading organization trying to reverse the trend that saw the nearly 27 percent of residents aged 25 to 44 leaving the Cape between 2000 and 2010. This amounts to roughly 15,000 people. Over their nine-year existence, CCYP has used networking opportunities and educational events to raise awareness and grow their membership to an impressive 900.
In 2013, they announced a new project called “Shape the Cape” (www.shapethecape.org) to study the issue and come up with productive ways to keep the younger generation here.
Initial results from a CCYP funded $31,000 study from the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University were released last week.
The population in Barnstable County (215,423) is declining (3 percent since 2000) and the fastest losses are in the 25 to 44-age category. As part of the study, 2,461 residents answered a survey (median age 34 years old), revealing that nearly 83 percent moved to the Cape for its beauty, 65 percent of which wanted to be here to be closer to family.
In terms of employment, some 80 percent worked in their desired field but 51 percent relied on a second or third job to get by. When asked about wages, only a third felt that the wages were sufficient to afford their costs and only 35 percent felt that there were enough opportunities to advance in their place of work. Only 32 percent felt there was enough job support through mentoring to help them advance.
In terms of housing, the median respondent was paying 35 percent of their income for a mortgage and 30 percent for rent. When asked if they were considering a move off Cape, a startling 47 percent said yes.
CCYP board president Lisa Guyon grew up in Harwich and works at Cape Cod Healthcare as their director of community benefits. Despite her coveted job, even she’s been unable to afford to buy a home and must devote a high percentage of her income to her rent.
“Yes, I’m experiencing these statistics first hand. This report confirmed what has been happening but previously we didn’t have a lot of data to back it up. We felt it was critical to collect it and look at it analytically,” she said.
“In the last decade, we lost some 15,000 people. Imagine if you woke up and most of the outer Cape was gone from Orleans out. This is really a drastic impact to our community fiber,” she added.
While the final report from CCYP will not be released until July, the nine-year-old nonprofit isn’t waiting to begin working on the problem. Their membership numbers are surging as more people join to help.
They have announced a plan to host multiple forums across the Cape (dates forthcoming) in the fall to discuss the results as well as their intent to host events to help connect its members with civic opportunities and establish a Career Connect Mentor Exchange program to, “Provide a supportive environment for entrepreneurs and those who are starting, changing, or advancing their careers.”
Anne Van Vleck is the executive director of CCYP. She called the study both ‘exciting’ and ‘truly challenging’.
“Yes this confirms our suspicions. It’s been very painful to see so many friends leaving but the commitment of this organization is making a difference.”
After seven years of discussions, Van Vleck said that it’s time to stop emphasizing the doom and gloom and focus on the positive outcomes to encourage the younger generation to stay.
“To affect change, there’s got to be more recognition in each town that action is needed to provide the social and economic support that can turn the tide and re-build our communities,” she said.
“It’s not going to happen tomorrow, no. Will be able to make a change by the 2020 census? We hope so.”