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December 14, 2018 in Local Government and Civic Engagement

An answer to the question “Why keep young workers and families on Cape Cod?”

As a local nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering opportunity and civic engagement among young workers and families on Cape Cod, we were deeply troubled by the points made in the recent letter to the editor titled “Why pay to keep young families in Chatham?” Contrary to this letter's author, CCYP applauds the Town of Chatham’s recent efforts to incentivize the retention of young workers and families through the addition of year-round market-rate and affordable housing options, and a proposal to provide child care vouchers of $6,000 per family – an amount that, incidentally, covers roughly 30% of the average cost of care for one child in Massachusetts (the second most expensive state in the nation for child care at $17,062 per year, per child, according to the Economic Policy Institute).

We want to address the author’s core question of why our communities should dedicate time and resources to retaining young workers and families in towns like Chatham. For us, it comes down not only to economics, but to the ability of Cape Cod’s communities to remain viable long-term. Instead of asking why we should want young workers and families to stay on Cape Cod year-round, we should instead be asking what happens to local communities when young people leave and don’t come back. Consider the following points:

  • Fewer year-round residents results in decreased earning and spending power, and directly impacts the economy – both seasonally and year-round. As year-round residents leave, regional economic activity shrinks and municipal tax bases take a hit. This can, in turn, compromise many of the critical services needed during the busy summer season and beyond, such as police, fire, street maintenance, and health care. It impacts towns’ ability to plan for the future, such as with desperately needed wastewater infrastructure. And it results in a shortage of working-age adults to staff seasonal and year-round businesses that form the very fabric of Cape Cod (as pointed out by the Chronicle in their editorial response published on December 12, 2018). Year-round workers and families keep our communities humming beyond the busy summer months after tourists and part-time residents leave.
  • A loss of young workers and families affects our ability to be resilient and sustain our communities over time. As young people and families leave, we lose an abundance of skilled, educated workers with degrees and certifications who, despite being employed full-time (sometimes with more than one job), can’t afford the high cost of housing and child care. This phenomenon, known as “brain drain” severely impacts a community's ability to bring innovative solutions to local challenges. A loss of year-round young workers and families negatively impacts the long-term viability of towns, socially and economically.
  • As much as we love and depend on it, tourism and seasonality can have disproportionate impacts on year-round residents. As people around the country and the world continue to learn about Cape Cod and what a special place it is – and as tourism numbers worldwide reach unprecedented numbers – the seasonal demand for services, goods, and real estate is also growing, resulting in increased prices across the board. Tourism, of course, provides an abundance of jobs and income sources for residents and boosts municipal budgets with increased sales and property taxes – a major plus for the Cape. However, the unintended impact is that year-round residents – who typically do not see proportional increases in their income to afford the dramatic price hikes – find it more difficult to live, work, and afford housing in the very communities they and/or their children have grown up in. Any number of examples of this phenomenon can be cited from tourist-based economies around the world. How do we begin to remedy this? By incentivizing and offering strategic support to year-round workers and families, and supporting businesses that stay open beyond the tourist season. A healthy, diversified economy – supported by year-round workers and families - insulates our communities from economic swings, and provides job mobility and opportunity for working-age residents.
  • This is not a Cape Cod-specific problem. As Millennials grow older and start families of their own, we are seeing mounting evidence that this segment of the population is not, as a group, overly entitled or spoiled, as has been reinforced by many a stereotype. Rather, we are systematically excluded from the very building blocks of the “American Dream” that our parents had access to just a couple of decades ago. Controlling for inflation, these building blocks to success and financial independence - housing, healthcare, and education - have all increased five-times over compared to when our parents were our age. Meanwhile, wages have stayed the same. This is not something we can escape by simply moving away to another community. These issues are systemic, structural, and deeply embedded in national economic and societal trends – and small to mid-sized communities across the country are grappling with the very same problems. Cape Cod needs young people to dig in their heels, invest in their local decision-making processes, and apply their passion and enthusiasm to resolve these very real and pervasive issues.
  • A new definition of “need.” All of this points to a shift in how we define “need.” The author of the letter notes that hard-earned tax dollars should not be used to subsidize those without true financial need. But traditional measures of need have not adjusted to keep up with the reality of what it means to be a working-age adult today. Much has been written by urban planning and land use experts on the concept of the “missing middle” – those who do not qualify for need-based housing assistance but struggle just the same due to stagnating wages and other socioeconomic factors. The fact is that 1 in 5 Millennials (age 18-34) live in poverty – a disproportionally higher amount than Gen Xers, Baby Boomers, and the Silent Generation. We are half as likely to own a home (Source: U.S. Census). We have 300% more student loan debt as compared to our parents (Source: The College Board, Trends in Student Aid, 2013). What’s very interesting to note, however, is that currently more than 50% of the world’s population is under the age of 30. According to the Pew Research Center, the Millennial generation is the largest in population size out of any of the living generations – 79.8 million people in 2016. That’s a lot of voting power!

But perhaps the most compelling response to the author’s original question is the simplest one: if we don’t support youth and families living here year-round, what sort of community would we be? For many, the idea of fostering opportunity for young workers and families symbolizes hope and an investment in the future. What do we want the future of our communities to look like? It’s time to put our money – and our vote – where it really matters. We urge residents across Cape Cod, regardless of age, to support town- and state-based initiatives that make it easier for young workers and families to stay on Cape Cod year-round. Get involved in your local boards, committees, and commissions. Educate yourself on the very real barriers that face our young workforce today. Vote in local elections. Get involved with organizations like CCYP who are fighting daily to embolden and encourage young workers and families who have chosen to make Cape Cod their home. Because if we don’t stand up for the future of our communities, then what do we stand for?

Lauren Barker, CEO

Cape Cod Young Professionals (CCYP, Inc.)