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Forbes magazine says Lawrence is one of the best places in the nation to retire; other surprising data about the city and its retirees
I thought for sure that when Forbes magazine released its list of best places to retire in 2017, it would keep it simple: The Trump cabinet. Fortunately for Lawrence, the magazine was more detailed. Lawrence has been named one of 25 communities on the Forbes list, which is one of the more prestigious rankings in the retirement industry.
Forbes does not rank its top 25, but Lawrence can legitimately say it is the best in Kansas. Lawrence is the only Kansas city to make the list.
The magazine has some positive things to say about the community. Among the pros listed by the publication: a cost of living that is 4 percent below the national average; adequate physicians per capita; a low serious-crime rate; good air quality; and a very bikeable community. Among the cons: cold winters; and a state income tax on Social Security earnings. Noteworthy in today’s environment is that the magazine ranked Lawrence as being only “somewhat walkable.” But the magazine also opines that except for the largest of U.S. cities, most communities aren’t very walkable from a senior perspective.
Traditionally when you think of retirement hot spots, the Sun Belt and the warm climates of the coasts are what come to mind. But the Forbes’ authors noted that communities in those locations are having a harder time making the list because of high cost-of-living issues. (The magazine publishes a separate list if cost isn’t a consideration for your retirement.) Instead, several locations from middle America made the list this year. Here’s a look at some other communities from our region.
— Jefferson City, Mo.: It has a cost of living 10 percent below the national average.
— Iowa City: It is listed as the quintessential college community, and it has a favorable tax environment for seniors too.
— Colorado Springs: The city’s scenery and strong economy drew high marks.
— Bella Vista, Ark.: The Ozark community has a cost of living 13 percent below the national average, and it has made serving retirees a big part of its economy for a long time.
— Lincoln, Neb.: Both a college town and a capital city, Lincoln had a cost of living 8 percent below the national average.
Lawrence is trying to make attraction of retirees a bigger part of its economic development strategy. The private sector also has been investing with that in mind too. There have been several expansions of retirement communities in Lawrence, and west Lawrence has a couple of projects that may particularly provide a boost: The Links apartment project, which is building apartments around a nine-hole golf course near Rock Chalk Park, and Village Cooperative, which will be co-op living for older adults at Sixth and Queens Road.
This Forbes listing certainly can be useful marketing material as the community tries to get retirees to give Lawrence a look. You can see the full Forbes list here.
• There is at least one other study community leaders may want to take a close look at as they try to build the local retirement industry. The Forbes ranking frequently referred to The Milken Institute’s Best Cities for Successful Aging Report.
Lawrence ranks well on that report too — although not best in the state. Manhattan grabbed the No. 2 national ranking in the small cities category. Lawrence had the No. 8 ranking. The No. 1 city was Iowa City, which may mean good things for Lawrence to come. Lawrence City Manager Tom Markus was previously the city manager in Iowa City. He likely saw much of what was working in Iowa City during his tenure there.
The Milken report is more detailed than the Forbes report. It presents Lawrence in a different light, in some ways. For example, Forbes’ brief writeup noted Lawrence has a low serious-crime rate. The Milken report looked at all crime — the definition of serious crime changes depending on how close you are to it — and Lawrence did not fare well in that category. Of the 281 small communities that were ranked, Lawrence’s crime rate checked in at No. 238. Manhattan, on the other hand, ranked No. 13 on Milken’s crime rate ranking.
The rankings, though, also point out some areas where Lawrence excels in ways we maybe haven’t fully recognized. One of them is in employing older people. The report found Lawrence had the top rating when it comes to the unemployment rate for people 65 and older. In other words, that unemployment rate is very low. Lawrence’s overall unemployment rate also ranked No. 29 out of 281.
There are about 75 different rankings for Lawrence within the Milken report, so I can’t go over all of them. But you can click here to see it for yourself.
The report, however, did summarize Lawrence’s strengths and weaknesses as it relates to caring for an aging population. Among the strengths:
— Low unemployment rate for elderly adults.
— Few older residents living in poverty; few residents with reverse mortgages.
— Highly educated populace.
— Volunteerism among older adults is high.
— Good growth in health and leisure employment.
— Well accredited hospital.
— Good numbers of primary care physicians.
— Low rates of diabetes.
— Fitness centers easily accessible.
— Multitude of home health care providers.
— Highly rated nursing homes.
A few negatives also were listed. They include:
— Expensive home prices and rent rates.
— A high tax burden.
— A shortage of Alzheimer’s units, geriatric facilities and hospices.