Cape Cod has a wealth of natural, historic, and cultural resources. These qualities make it a highly desirable place in which to live, work, vacation, and retire. Some consider the islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket to be part of Cape Cod but for the purposes of this study, Cape Cod is defined strictly as Barnstable County. This study is motivated by the recent decline in Cape Cod's population.

Cape Cod, a peninsula off of the southeastern coast of Massachusetts, has a wealth of natural, historic, and cultural resources. These qualities make it a highly desirable place in which to live, work, vacation, and retire. Some consider the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket to be part of Cape Cod but for the purposes of this study, Cape Cod is defined strictly as Barnstable County (see Figure 1). This study is motivated by the recent decline in Cape Cod’s population.

After seven decades of rapid population growth, why has the Cape begun to lose residents, particularly among young adults, aged 25 to 44?

The centerpiece of this study is a survey carried out by the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University on behalf of Cape Cod Young Professionals (CCYP). A member based organization, CCYP’s mission is “to connect Cape Cod’s emerging workforce and future leaders, to engage them in our community, and to support their efforts to advance their lives, both business and personal, on the Cape” (CCYP, 2012). The survey of young people is part of CCYP’s new initiative, Shape the Cape.

Figure 1. Map of Cape Cod

In addition to the survey, the Dukakis Center conducted four focus groups at various locations on the Cape and conducted telephone interviews with five former Cape Cod residents who have permanently moved off Cape. The focus groups and telephone interviews confirmed and supplemented the findings that emerged from the survey.

More than 3,000 young adults responded to the Shape the Cape survey, the results of which tell a fascinating story of what keeps them living on Cape Cod and what may force them to move elsewhere. Findings from this study could help to inform potential solutions for retaining young professionals on Cape Cod and for attracting new young residents to the region, thereby reversing recent trends.

This study confirms a number of suspicions about Cape Cod and its ability to retain and attract young professionals. The first is that the population of Barnstable County is now declining and the decline is being fueled by a loss of those aged 25 to 44.

The second is that two factors seem to be chiefly responsible for the loss of young workers and their households. The lack of job opportunities that pay a living year-round wage and provide a chance for professional advancement is the first. The lack of affordable housing, making inadequate wages even more important, is the second.

Essentially, 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.

To increase the “pull” of the Cape, Shape the Cape should consider becoming a stronger advocate for making the Cape even more attractive. This could be achieved by building support for reduced barriers to new industry development in Barnstable County, helping to create an economic development marketing campaign for the region, urging the creation of additional higher education opportunities, and finding ways to help develop more affordable housing.

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