To the Editor:
I used to work for a man who was 80 years old. To this day, I admire him professionally and personally for many reasons, but he refused to admit that his sun was setting. He was no longer involved in the day-to-day operations of his business, but he was not ready to hand over the reins either.
He would often arrive at the office and reassign staff or cancel projects without warning. Months of planning could be reversed with a single word. That was his right as the owner, but the staff he had entrusted to run his business felt anything but trusted.
The whole situation was a recipe for dysfunction, resulting in low morale and high turnover, and I worry that Cape May County suffers from a similar problem.
It’s no secret that our county has aged over the last 20 years. Today, 37% of our residents are 65 or older (more than double the national figure), and our median age surpassed 50 for the first time in 2019. As baby boomers grow older and live longer, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that the share of the population aged 65 and older will double by 2050.
To be clear: This unprecedented longevity is a modern miracle, but it also poses a challenge for Cape May County.
Like my former employer, most of these retirement-age residents are not ready to pass the torch. They have worked hard and deserve to enjoy the fruits of their labors. They are entitled to worry about property values, overdevelopment, and losing the unique character of Cape May County that we all enjoy.
Unfortunately, there is another generation waiting in the wings, and they have different priorities.
The young people who grew up in Cape May County don’t want to pave over paradise, but they do have more important concerns at this stage in their life. They need well-paying jobs and affordable housing, but struggle to find them in a local economy that favors the status quo over upward mobility.
The only option for these discontented up-and-comers has been to make their fortunes elsewhere. That is why Cape May County suffered a net loss of 5,000 residents under the age of 45 between 2010 and 2019.
We could say “Good riddance!” to these young people and assume that a combination of second homeowners and remote workers will prop up the economy, but that would be a mistake.
The essential workers we relied upon during the pandemic were not retirees or people who can afford a beach house. Most of them were below the median age, and many worked low-wage jobs in retail or food service.
Our local economy cannot survive without these young people, but we can’t expect them to stay without opportunities to advance professionally and improve their lot. We also cannot ask our aging population to cede the future when they have so much life left to live.
There must be a balance between the needs and ambitions of these two generations. So, let’s have an open and respectful conversation about solving this problem. Speaking from experience, the alternative is neither pleasant nor productive.