NEWCOMB - Residents of the Adirondacks are older and poorer than elsewhere, and this discrepancy is getting ever more dramatic, according to a sociological study conducted jointly by the Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages and the Adirondack North Country Association.
"What really jumped out at me was that young people are leaving the area in record numbers," AATV President and Wells Supervisor Brian Towers said April 8. "Our communities are getting smaller and people of child rearing age have left seeking more opportunity."
The survey - which is to be released over the next two weeks - concludes that Adirondack youth are leaving the area at staggering rates and are being replaced by retirees who found success elsewhere, Towers said.
These trends, plus low prevailing wages, limited job opportunities and expensive housing, are threatening the very survival of Adirondack communities and the way of life here, local officials said this week.
The study's findings include that the average age of an Adirondack resident is 43 years, while the national average is 35. This figure is more similar to the retirement communities of coastal Florida, the study reports.
According to the study, the total number of public school students has dropped 31 percent since 1970, while the number of teachers has risen over 40 percent.
"We have to commit to bringing young people here," Morehouse Supervisor Bill Farber said. "We have to advocate for better jobs and increased technological innovation as a united front."
Farber said that without viable economic and technical development, the brain-drain will only continue.
"Kids go off to college and get used to cell service and broadband," Farber said. "Many are not willing to return to a place where these services are not available."
Further, the study concludes that the tourist-driven nature of the park has lead to a crucial lack of affordable housing. When coupled with a median household income figure of $43,000 annually - about $10,000 below the national average - Adirondack residents are unable to compete with non-residents buying second homes.
Local governments continue to be the primary sources of employment.
"There are regions in the central part of the park where basically no residents can qualify for a mortgage because property values are so high and income is so low," Johnsburg Supervisor Sterling Goodspeed said this week. "The whole report presents a pretty dismal picture of the park."
Nearly 70 percent of home-sales in Hamilton county are to second-home buyers.
The study consists of 15 "modules" which assess quality of life indicators like potential employment, population age, land use and the availability of public services.
"The differential between median income and housing cost was the most striking," Farber said. "This area is defined by second-home buyers, so the property values are not defined by median income like they are in most areas."
The two-year study has been conducted by the LA Group of Saratoga.
"Newcomb is one of the demographically oldest towns in the state," Goodspeed said.
For local politicians, finding a balance between environmental conservation and economic viability is the key for the survival of area communities and the Adirondack culture.
"We have to find a way to make these forests working forests," Farber said. "I think the environmental organizations have had some success attracting youth to the park through internships - this is something we should be looking into."
When completed, the study will include town by town information of each of the 103 participant communities, officials said.