Cape Breton regional council has been told to brace for a population drop of 1,000 people a year for the next 20 years.
Municipal staff presented some troubling numbers to council Tuesday night.
"We've lost roughly 30,000 people since about 1966," said Doug Foster, the Cape Breton Regional Municipality's director of planning.
'Some of these neighbourhoods are in bad shape' —Doug Foster, director of planning
Foster said the mining towns have been hit hard, with Glace Bay losing about 37 per cent of its population.
As young people leave for jobs elsewhere, communities continue to shrink and grow old, he said.
John Whalley, manager of economic development, said the problem has become very evident in recent months with cuts in education funding.
"We've lost 30 per cent of people under 30 in 15 years. School boards are in full retreat at this point, and that's not something that's going to stop unless the economic policies of the province change," he said.
Foster said the municipality's desperate population projections warrant financial intervention from higher levels of government.
(source: Statistics Canada)
"Some of these neighbourhoods are in bad shape," Foster said.
"I think we need to look at immigration, decentralization of some provincial [and] possibly federal departments. And I think that we should make the case to the provincial and the federal level to help us deal with some of the things that have happened."
Foster cited the tar ponds cleanup and harbour dredging as major projects that are positive developments for the municipality.
But he said to turn things around, the municipality needs more than 5,000 new good-paying jobs to attract people to the area or keep those of working age still left.
Regional council is expected to continue debating population and economic development issues in June.