Bankrate.com has gathered a gaggle of statistics on the best states in America to retire. Its decision?
Tennessee is number one: warm climate, low taxes, lowest cost of living in America, access to medical care.
And although access to crawfish pie and filé gumbo wasn't on BankRate's list of eight criteria, the Cajun State was number two, even though Louisiana ranked low in crime rate (4,244 per 100,000, versus 2,072 in South Dakota).
The Sooners were number one in the lowest-cost-of-living category, but Oklahoma ranked 14th overall.
And where was the Sunshine State? Number 19.
Get this: South Dakota – the home of Wounded Knee, Deadwood and 833,354 pairs of blue ears – was number three, followed by Kentucky, Mississippi, Virginia, West Virginia, Alabama, Nebraska, North Dakota, Missouri, Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Ohio, Montana, Pennsylvania, Georgia … and then Florida.
“North Dakota, South Dakota or Nebraska?” asked Tom Hokenson, a grocery produce manager and retired Air Force reservist. “Are you serious!”
“If you can bear South Dakota's temperatures, it's a pretty good place to live on a fixed income,” analyst Chris Kahn defended Bankrate's ranking.
Here's how South and North Dakota wound up in the top 10, even though Fargo is a frozen tundra (average January temp: 5.9 degrees). North Dakota has the second-lowest crime rate in the nation and five hospital beds for every 1,000 residents (both Dakotas top that category).
Tom Hokenson and wife Maryanne love West Bend, Wis., about 30 miles north of Milwaukee. “It's still Go Badgers and Go Packers.” But Hokenson, 66, has an 11 golf handicap.
“This is heaven. I live less than 30 minutes from 10 championship golf courses, including Pinecrest, designed in 1926 by the famous golf course architect Donald Ross. This was the first course in the U.S.A. to have a nationally televised P.G.A. event. Two beautiful courses at Sun N' Lake are practically across the street from where I live. The rest of the courses are within 10 miles or less. My wife (a banker and V.A. claims office adjudicator) never golfed before in her life, and now plays three or four times a week.”
Although Florida is wildly popular with retirees, it may not be the best place to spend those golden years, says the New York publisher of banking data.
“People have distinct ideas about the best places to retire,” Bankrate wrote in its announcement. “For many, it's about proximity to beaches, lakes, golf courses and grandchildren.”
Well, yeah. Which is why George and Bobbie Souder chose Marco Island.
“Warm weather and beaches,” she said. To be sure, New Jersey has sand, but Atlantic City is not so close to Camden County (across the Delaware River from Philadelphia) and the average January high on the Boardwalk is a wear-your-windbreaker 44; Marco Island's shorts-and-shirt-sleeve temp is 76.
If it weren't for Marco Island's politics and having to leave the island every time a hurricane threatened, the Souders would still be in Southwest Florida.
“Why are we here on the beach?” she eventually asked. “We don't even go to the beach.”
So eventually, the Souders found Highlands County. When they closed on a house and heard their tax bill on a two-bedroom, two-bath house would be just $500 annually, George kicked Bobbie under the table. Maybe it was a mistake, and he didn't want her to point it out, she laughed.
Yes, Florida auto insurance is even higher than metro New Jersey, but water bills are 10 times cheaper.
Now they enjoy Mockingbird Lake instead of the Gulf of Mexico. “But there are a lot of seabirds here also,” she said. “Yes, we had to kill a snake in our yard here. But there are snakes on Marco Island too.”
Actually, Bankrate's ranking might be good for Florida, Bill Carlson facebooked. “Being positioned as a retirement state hurts the state's economic development efforts. The retirement industry creates short-term construction jobs and long-term service jobs that are low paying.
“The residents of our state deserve more,” wrote Carlson, a former Sebring resident who is now in the Tampa area. “They deserve to have our best efforts to create and bring high paying jobs. We should welcome every retiree and make them feel at home, but we shouldn't spend taxpayer dollars and lots of energy to support the retirement industry.”
“I can't think of anything we don't have here,” Hokenson said. “Hospitals, shopping, restaurants, movie theaters… I just thought of something we don't have. State taxes.
“We are only about an hour and a half from the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. We are less than two hours from either Tampa or Orlando,” he said. “The sun shines almost every day, and if you like, you can get your paper from the driveway in your bare feet every day. I couldn't do that in the Dairy State.”
In Hokenson's opinion, the Sunshine State should rank in the top five. “Maybe we should keep this area our own little secret. But I have a feeling the word will get out.”