The Best and Worst States to Grow Old

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Cars going through Huntsville, Alabama.
Source: Thinkstock

46. Alabama
> Pct. of pop. age 65 and up: 15.7% (20th highest)
> 65 and over poverty rate: 9.9% (10th highest)
> 65 and over bachelor attainment: 21.2% (11th lowest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 75.4 years (2nd lowest)

The physical decline that comes with age is more prevalent in Alabama than in most states. Of Alabama’s 65 and older population, 41.4% report having a disability of some kind, the fourth highest share of all states. Also, there are 4,823 deaths for every 100,000 elderly state residents in a year, the sixth highest mortality rate among older Americans in the country.

Seniors living in Alabama benefit from one of the lowest costs of living in the country. The 65 and over population is also considerably more likely to own their home than those in other states. For many elderly Alabamians, however, these advantages likely do not offset the low incomes. The typical elderly household has an annual income of $35,709, the sixth lowest of all states.

Evening in Little Rock, Arkansas.
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47. Arkansas
> Pct. of pop. age 65 and up: 16.1% (14th highest)
> 65 and over poverty rate: 10.3% (6th highest)
> 65 and over bachelor attainment: 18.6% (3rd lowest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 75.8 years (7th lowest)

For many seniors, losing the ability to drive can represent a loss of of independence, particularly if they live in areas where getting around from place to place almost always requires a personal vehicle. This may be a disproportionately serious problem for seniors in Arkansas, where just 2.3% of workers commute on foot or by public transportation, compared to 8.0% of all American workers.

Arkansas’ older residents are also more likely to struggle to make ends meet. The 65 and older household has an income of just $33,276 a year, about $7,700 less than the national median for senior households. Arkansas is one of nine states where more than one in 10 seniors live in poverty.

Whitewashed Wall around Lafayette, Louisiana
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48. Louisiana
> Pct. of pop. age 65 and up: 14.0% (7th lowest)
> 65 and over poverty rate: 12.8% (the highest)
> 65 and over bachelor attainment: 20.1% (8th lowest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 75.8 years (4th lowest)

Although elderly Americans are less likely to live in poverty than other age group, they tend to have lower — and often fixed — incomes. Because of their often increased needs due to health issues, the burden of financial hardship is significantly greater for older individuals. In Louisiana, the elderly population is further burdened by the nation-leading elderly poverty rate of 12.8% — a strong indication that growing old in Louisiana is likely to be accompanied by some financial difficulty. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, older Americans are vulnerable to mistreatment of all sorts, including physical violence. In Louisiana, the likelihood of growing old in a safe community is lower than in most states. The state’s violent crime rate of 540 incidents per 100,000 people is fifth highest nationwide.

Farm in Winter with View of Mountains, West Virginia
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49. West Virginia
> Pct. of pop. age 65 and up: 18.2% (3rd highest)
> 65 and over poverty rate: 8.5% (21st highest)
> 65 and over bachelor attainment: 15.6% (the lowest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 75.4 years (3rd lowest)

A college education can be valuable for seniors both because it increases the likelihood of holding a job that pays well, and also because it can have a number of personal benefits. In West Virginia, however, just 15.6% of seniors have a college degree, the smallest share of any state, and more than 10 percentage points below the U.S. rate.

Chronic conditions and disease are a risk at any age, but the likelihood of developing a debilitating mental or physical disability increases dramatically with age. Across the country, just over 35% of people 65 and over have a mental or physical disability. In West Virginia, around 44% of seniors have a disability of some kind, the worst of any state. Also, West Virginia has the second highest mortality rate for people over 65 in the U.S., another indication of poor health of the elderly population in the state.

Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge, Cape Girardeau, Missouri, Illinois
Source: Thinkstock

50. Mississippi
> Pct. of pop. age 65 and up: 14.7% (21st lowest)
> 65 and over poverty rate: 12.5% (2nd highest)
> 65 and over bachelor attainment: 19.6% (5th lowest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 74.8 years (the lowest)

Mississippi routinely ranks as among the worst states in a range of socioeconomic and health measures, and elderly residents are not exceptional in this regard. The typical elderly household has an annual income of $31,744, the lowest of all elderly state populations. The challenge of living on such low incomes is alleviated somewhat by the state’s relatively low cost of living. Goods and services cost 13.3% less in Mississippi than they do on average nationwide, the lowest cost of living of all states.

Compared with the vast majority of U.S. states, Mississippi’s elderly residents are not healthy. Close to 5,000 deaths are recorded for every 100,000 state residents 65 and older in a given year, the highest mortality rate of all states and a strong indication that premature death is not uncommon in the state. Further, like many states towards the lower end of this list, the percentage of older Mississippians who report some form of disability, at 42.6%, is well above the national percentage of 35.4% and second highest of all states.