From the Philly Inquirer:
It was 2004 when Lorraine McCarthy, a full-time resident of this Cape May County resort, sold her duplex a block from the boardwalk and decamped to the mainland.
“The choice we made to move off the barrier island was the same choice that a lot of people who wanted to make some money made,” said McCarthy, who lives in nearby Upper Township. “It was the best time to sell.”
The Jersey Shore’s real estate boom, it now seems, had a more profound effect on the region’s population than many realized.
In beach towns up and down the coast, the number of year-round residents dropped significantly last decade – almost 40 percent in one case, according to recently released U.S. Census statistics that surprised and alarmed some local officials.
“I knew our population numbers were going to be down, but I didn’t know they were going to be down this much,” said Suzanne Walters, who has noticed the voter rolls shrinking during her 15 years as mayor of Stone Harbor. The little borough’s population declined 23 percent between 2000 and 2010.
The robust economy during most of the decade led to a fevered real estate climate, said James Hughes, dean of Rutgers University’s Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy.
“A lot of year-around residents at the Shore saw their property values surge, so they took advantage of the market,” Hughes said. Many migrated inland or left the state after their modest year-around dwellings were purchased – and sometimes replaced with larger homes – by people who live elsewhere.
Others, mostly retirees, held on to their properties and still vanished from local census roles, Hughes said, by acquiring winter residences in other states that they declared as their primary residences.
Their motivation: refuge from the Garden State’s notoriously high cost of living.
Having fewer residents also affects schools. In Sea Isle City, where the full-time population shrank 25 percent last decade, the Board of Education has asked the state to order its school district and neighboring Ocean City’s to merge
Between 2000 and 2010, Ocean City’s year-around population dropped about 24 percent to 11,701 residents. Among 10 Cape May County coastal locations, populations in nine declined, between less than 1 percent (Lower Township) and 38 percent (Avalon), according to the census. (Tiny Cape May Point gained 50 residents – an increase of 21 percent.) The towns’ total population dropped about 12 percent.
In Atlantic County, the combined population of Atlantic City, Brigantine, Longport, Margate, and Ventnor dropped about 11 percent to 66,907 during the decade. The greatest losses were in Brigantine (25 percent) and Margate (22 percent).
Meanwhile, the county’s mainland municipality of Egg Harbor Township experienced the second-highest population growth in the state. Galloway and Hamilton, both inland, also were among the top 25 gainers.
“People just cashed out,” said Walters, of Stone Harbor, which had 866 residents last year, according to the census.
“I know a lot of people, longtime residents, that sold and moved over to Cape May Court House on the mainland and used the money to buy a bigger home or pay for their kid’s college education. And a lot of retirees permanently moved to Florida or the Carolinas, where they found the cost of living to be cheaper,” she said.
“A lot of people talk about what we can do to lower taxes and costs and to keep our residents from fleeing the state. Maybe this will be a wake-up call that we need to stop talking and do something about it.”