Special Report

The Best (and Worst) States to Grow Old

21. Idaho
> Pct. of pop. age 65 and up:
14.4% (20th lowest)
> 65 and over poverty rate: 9.5% (16th highest)
> 65 and over bachelor attainment: 23.1% (19th lowest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 78.9 years (21st highest)

Obtaining adequate food can become more difficult later in life, and food insecurity is a growing problem among the U.S. elderly. In Idaho, however, just 4.4% of seniors are considered food insecure, the third smallest share in the country. The high homeownership rate among state seniors also reflects stability for the state’s older population. As many as 83.1% of elderly Idaho households are owned by their occupants, the seventh highest old-age homeownership rate of any state.

Despite these relatively strong measures, Idaho’s elderly also report some of the nation’s lowest income. The typical home with an elderly head of household earns just $36,048 annually, lower than the comparable figure in all but a handful of other states.

22. California
> Pct. of pop. age 65 and up:
12.9% (6th lowest)
> 65 and over poverty rate: 10.6% (8th highest)
> 65 and over bachelor attainment: 29.5% (10th highest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 80.4 years (4th highest)

With a median age of only 36, California is one of the youngest states in the country. The state’s elderly population does not fare especially well, however. Only 44.7% of elderly households earn a retirement income from sources such as 401(k)s or pensions, considerably less than the 48.1% national average, and 86% receive income from social security, the third smallest share in the country after Alaska and Maryland. High rent areas in the Golden State may be the source of added financial strain among the state’s elderly. Though it is not economically prudent to spend more than 30% of one’s income on rent, nearly 63% of Californians over the age of 65 do, the largest share of any state in the country. The state’s old-age poverty rate is roughly equivalent to the nation as a whole. However, when adjusted for the high cost of California housing, out-of-pocket medical expenses, and other basic necessities, the state’s seniors have the highest supplemental poverty rate in the nation.

23. Iowa
> Pct. of pop. age 65 and up:
15.8% (11th highest)
> 65 and over poverty rate: 7.4% (10th lowest)
> 65 and over bachelor attainment: 20.1% (9th lowest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 79.0 years (20th highest)

When factors such as out-of-pocket medical expenses, food, and clothing are taken into account, just 9.0% of Iowa’s elderly residents live below the poverty line, the lowest old-age supplemental poverty rate in the country. Social Security may help keep Iowa seniors financially afloat, as 93.7% of senior-led households receive Social Security income — the second highest share of any state. In addition to financial stability, elderly residents have access to strong medical infrastructure. The 19.5% of adults who do not have a personal doctor is a smaller share than the 22.9% national average, and the 4.7 hospitals per 100,000 state residents is over twice that of the nation overall. Just 31.8% of elderly Iowans have a disability, the third smallest share in the country.

Low educational attainment is tied with a number of health consequences as well as a lower quality of life in old age. In Iowa, just one in five senior citizens have at least a bachelor’s degree, a smaller share than in all but a handful of states.

24. Wisconsin
> Pct. of pop. age 65 and up:
15.2% (22nd highest)
> 65 and over poverty rate: 7.2% (8th lowest)
> 65 and over bachelor attainment: 22.0% (18th lowest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 79.3 years (14th highest)

Of Wisconsin’s elderly population, 7.2% live in poverty, one of the lowest rates in the nation. Even when costs associated with out-of-pocket medical expenses, food, clothing, and other basic necessities are taken into account, the level of poverty among the elderly is among the lowest. Social Security is well distributed in the state and may help the state’s elderly stay financially afloat, as 93.8% of senior households in Wisconsin receive such benefits, the highest recipiency rate of any state. While a high share of Wisconsin’s elderly residents manage to stay out of poverty, incomes are still relatively low. The median income for elderly households is $36,606, about $2,600 less than the national average income.

25. Kansas
> Pct. of pop. age 65 and up:
14.4% (20th lowest)
> 65 and over poverty rate: 7.9% (16th lowest)
> 65 and over bachelor attainment: 26.0% (20th highest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 78.2 years (22nd lowest)

Approximately 7.9% of senior citizens in Kansas live in poverty, a slightly smaller share than the 9.5% poverty rate among the country’s elderly citizens. Also, a relatively small share of the elderly population receives food stamps. Only 4.8% of homes with elderly heads of households in Kansas depend on food stamps, considerably less than the 9.0% food stamp recipiency rate for elderly households across the nation.

Kansas’s seniors tend to be less prepared financially for retirement than is typical across the country. Only 45.6% of elderly residents in the state have retirement income from sources other than social security, like pensions or 401(k)s.

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