Nantucket’s average summer population of 58,000 people has grown by nearly 70 percent since 2014, according to new data released this week by the Nantucket Data Platform.
And the island’s peak summer population - which hit 65,220 last year - is on pace to approach 100,000 people by 2030 if the current trend continues.
“Everyone says it feels busier, and that is actually correct,” said Alan Worden, the founder and CEO of the Nantucket Data Platform. “We hope this starts a conversation.”
That conversation, Worden emphasized, should be centered on using the new population data and the trends it reveals to make more informed decisions about everything from the municipal sewer system, to water use, transportation and retail food distribution on the island.
As Worden posed it: “If this trend continues, what are we going to do?”
Understanding that the federal Census figures - which peg Nantucket’s year-round population at just 14,255 - are incomplete at best, the Data Platform set out to create a more comprehensive methodology for determining population.
With support from ReMain Nantucket, the Data Platform analyzed data going back to 2014, using sources such as the town street list, ferry and plane statistics, mobility data from cell phone carriers, along with local, state, and federal demographic data.
“We’ve built a methodology to count people that’s very reliable,” he said.
Among the numerous intriguing conclusions and trends revealed in the new data is one that most in the service industry know intuitively: there are fewer workers serving a growing number of people. Using the Data Platform’s average population and average number of workers in the peak season, it determined that in 2014 each seasonal worker served 10.9 people. In 2021, each seasonal worker served 21.9 people, more than double the amount in just seven years.
While year-round workers have increased slightly since 2014 (up by about 18 percent), the number of seasonal workers on the island for the summer has actually declined by 13 percent, due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as issues related to the U.S. visa program for temporary workers.
“What does that mean? It means it’s hard to get in the Stop & Shop, and it’s hard to get a dinner reservation,” Worden said. “Because of the constraint of housing, people can’t get enough staff. So what’s the implication of saying more and more people will come? That spread between workers and population, it creates opportunities and stresses.”
What’s an example of those opportunities? Worden noted what Millie’s restaurant is doing with its food trucks: preparing boxed meals for families at locations that are central, like the Milestone Rotary. It allows the restaurant to serve more people with less staff, he said.
“You’re going to see more and more prepared foods,” he said.
Last summer there was a lot of discussion around the peak population number, with some speculating that it was already close to 100,000 people. While the Data Platform’s analysis shows it wasn’t close to that number, the trend indicates the island’s peak summer population is headed that way in the near future.
“We’re not predicting that it will, we’re saying that’s where the trend points,” Worden said. “It’s incumbent upon leaders of philanthropy, government and business to make evidence-based decisions. There’s plenty of room to debate policy, but we shouldn't debate the facts.”
Check out the Data Platform’s new tool to explore the population data between 2014 and 2021.