- The Washington Times - Monday, January 7, 2008

BARNSTABLE, Mass. (AP) — When Leon Michelove sits back to enjoy the Cape Cod Symphony Orchestra, it’s obvious to him something about the audience has changed.

“All of the hair is gray,” said the 75-year-old Barnstable resident. “When we started here 10 years ago, that was not the case.”

Since 1990, the median age on the scenic arm jutting out from the mainland has risen about seven years, from about 39 to almost 46. Nationwide, the median age of 36.4 rose about half as much during the same time, said Peter Francese, director of demographic forecasts at the New England Economic Partnership.

If the trend continues, this region faces crushing costs for health care of the aging, and fewer workers for an already stretched pool of employees.

Some Cape Codders also fear their historic, hardworking communities will become exclusive places for the wealthy, similar to nearby Nantucket.

“I don’t think you can call any community healthy that can’t support all generations of a family,” said Maggie Geist of the Association to Preserve Cape Cod. “The Cape is well past that point.”

About a quarter of Cape residents are older than 65, compared with about 13 percent nationwide.

Another telling statistic shows the Cape had 5,000 more deaths than births from 2000 to 2006, the sixth-highest percentage loss in the nation. That puts the Cape ahead of retiree-laden Florida’s Pinellas, Volusia and Pasco counties.

Part of the problem stems from the Cape’s shorelines and landscapes that draw visitors and inspire famous residents such as the Kennedys. The Cape capitalized on that natural beauty in the 1980s by building up tourism to replace the flagging fishing and farming industries, and some of the tourists were smart enough to buy second homes.

Now those visitors are retired and moving in. From 1980 to today, the population boomed from 148,000 to 225,000.

Many Cape towns, concerned about preserving their character and natural resources, reacted with policies aimed at curbing development.

But that had the effect of pushing prices too high for younger families with children. From 2000 to 2006, about 10,000 people ages 35 to 44 and their children left the Cape, Mr. Francese said.

Local salaries did not keep pace with the rising prices. More than a third of Cape jobs are in the relatively low-paying retail or food service and accommodations industries that support tourism.

Even middle-income workers are finding the Cape unaffordable.

In an interview at the Barnstable senior center, where the second major expansion in less than a decade is under way, Mr. Michelove recalls speaking to an emergency medical technician who was forced by high housing prices to move off the Cape to Plymouth.

“That’s scary when the people who take care of you physically are … miles away and over a big bridge that sometimes closes when the weather is bad,” Mr. Michelove said.

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