Special Report

The Best (and Worst) States to Grow Old

41. New Mexico
> Pct. of pop. age 65 and up:
15.3% (21st highest)
> 65 and over poverty rate: 13.2% (the highest)
> 65 and over bachelor attainment: 28.8% (12th highest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 77.9 years (18th lowest)

Among New Mexico’s older residents, 13.2% live in poverty, the highest elderly poverty rate in the country. Furthermore, roughly 31% of adults in the Land of Enchantment do not have a personal doctor, indicating that many of the state’s elderly may not be getting the medical care they need.

Despite a nation-leading poverty rate and other substandard measures, New Mexico’s elderly are more likely to own their own home than most American senior citizens. Nearly 83% of those 65 and older are homeowners, one of the highest rates among the age group in the country.

42. Oklahoma
> Pct. of pop. age 65 and up:
14.5% (21st lowest)
> 65 and over poverty rate: 8.5% (24th lowest)
> 65 and over bachelor attainment: 21.3% (16th lowest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 75.6 years (5th lowest)

Fewer than half of elderly Oklahoma households have retirement income. At 45.1%, the percentage is also among the lowest in the nation. The typical household headed by an older resident earns $36,820 annually, not especially low compared with the other states in the bottom 10 but still well below the national median income for the elderly of $39,186.

Elderly individuals are often more vulnerable to crime levels in an area, and a high crime rate can contribute to and worsen physical ailments. It can also drive up isolation among older people in particular who choose to avoid unsafe neighborhoods by staying indoors. Oklahoma’s violent crime rate of 406 incidents per 100,000 people is well above the national rate.

43. Kentucky
> Pct. of pop. age 65 and up:
14.8% (25th lowest)
> 65 and over poverty rate: 11.3% (5th highest)
> 65 and over bachelor attainment: 17.1% (2nd lowest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 75.7 years (6th lowest)

More than one-quarter of those 65 and older in Kentucky did not complete high school, the highest share of any state in the country. Relatively limited education predictably led to negative economic outcomes. The 11.3% poverty rate among the state’s elderly population is one of the highest in the country. Economic burdens in the state are made worse by physical burdens. Of those 65 and older who are not institutionalized, 43.1% have a disability — a larger share than in all but two other states.

Multiple negative measures in the state culminate in one of the lowest life expectancies in the country. The life expectancy of Kentucky residents is only 75.7 years, roughly three fewer years than the national average.

44. Louisiana
> Pct. of pop. age 65 and up:
13.6% (7th lowest)
> 65 and over poverty rate: 12.8% (3rd highest)
> 65 and over bachelor attainment: 20.3% (13th lowest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 75.4 years (4th lowest)

Louisiana is one of only seven states where life expectancy does not exceed 76 years. A range of factors contribute to lower than average longevity among state residents. With 515 violent crimes for every 100,000 state residents, Louisiana is more dangerous than all but six other states. Additionally, more than one-quarter of adults in the state do not have a personal doctor, one of the largest shares in the country.

Economic woes among the state’s elderly population also likely play a role in their relatively poorer health. Median income among elderly households only $32,870, less than in all but two other states. In addition, the state’s elderly poverty rate is high. Nearly 13% of seniors in the state live in poverty, a considerably larger share than the national poverty rate among the elderly of 9.5%.

45. Arkansas
> Pct. of pop. age 65 and up:
15.7% (15th highest)
> 65 and over poverty rate: 10.6% (8th highest)
> 65 and over bachelor attainment: 17.7% (3rd lowest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 75.8 years (7th lowest)

The elderly are more vulnerable to chronic diseases and disabilities. Of noninstitutionalized 65 and over state residents, 42.6% have a disability, the fourth largest share nationwide. Poor health outcomes are closely tied to financial instability, and the relatively high poverty level in Arkansas likely contributes to both the prevalence of disabilities as well as a greater incidence of premature death. More than one in 10 state residents 65 and older live in poverty, among the highest rates compared to elderly populations in other states. Arkansas’s life expectancy of 76 years is also the seventh lowest in the country.

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