In Our View: Washington's Little Secret

Ignorant of its many wonders, report finds state in middle of pack for retirees

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We aren’t exactly the retiring types in Washington, where “retirement” often means simply more time to climb mountains or catch salmon or train for marathons. But, on the other hand, we aren’t exactly Portland, the place where “young people go to retire.” Many of us actually will slow down at some point and think about our post-work careers, which makes the latest report by Bankrate somewhat relevant.

The consumer financial services company has released its annual ranking of the best — and worst — states for retirees. Bankrate pulled together studies from other organizations measuring things such as residents’ well-being, the cost of living, the state and local tax burden, and the quality of health care . . . and used them to determine how inviting each state is for retirees.

The verdict? Washington came in 22nd place, right between Georgia and Pennsylvania. Now, how we could rank behind a state that considers the 4,458-foot Blood Mountain to be a “mountain” is beyond us. And how we could barely rank ahead of a landlocked state is equally perplexing. The people doing the study obviously have never gotten a look at Mount Rainier or Puget Sound, but that’s probably beside the point. Oregon, by the way, came in 34th place, but there’s no word yet on whether they considered all those 25-year-old retirees for our neighbor to the south.

Washington scored fairly well in residents’ well-being and health care, and not so well in property crimes. For “possible sunshine,” it ranked 47th, which reinforces the notion that the weather here is a well-kept secret. Sure, it rains, but we’ll take that over the humidity or the blizzards or the hurricanes that plague other parts of the country.

Any such rankings, of course, should be taken with a whole cup full of salt. And Bankrate’s formula seems to favor states with open spaces and 3 feet of snow on the ground. The lowest-ranked state was New York, while the top nine were South Dakota, Colorado, Utah, North Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Montana, Idaho, and Iowa — as if the study was sponsored by a snowplow manufacturer.

“While the states that ranked highly may not be thought of as typical retiree havens, seniors should consider more than sunshine when choosing a place for their golden years,” Bankrate analyst Chris Kahn said. “The Dakotas both ranked in our top 10 for the second year in a row due to their low cost of living, low crime rates, good health-care quality, low taxes, and excellent satisfaction scores from residents.”

The notion of retirement has changed over the years. The Pew Research Center has determined that an estimated 10,000 Baby Boomers will reach the age of 65 each day until 2030, and their retirement experience will be much different from that of previous generations. According to a Pew survey, “The typical Boomer believes that old age does not begin until age 72.” Retirement once was, on average, a relatively short portion of a person’s life but now frequently lasts decades and can be marked by excellent health and an active lifestyle. Which, we suppose, comes in handy when you’re still shoveling snow off the doorstep in mid-April.

With that in mind, we’ll sing the praises of Washington as a great place to live for people of any age, but we won’t sing them very loudly. To borrow the mantra of former Oregon Gov. Tom McCall: “Come visit, but please don’t stay.” We’ll keep the wonders of Washington as our own little secret.