Recently, Institute Executive Vice President and Treasurer Mark Mix called to my attention a short article that was posted on the web site of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) a few months ago. Citing research by MoneyRates.com, the AARP article listed the “10 Worst-Rated States for Retirement,” based on such factors as “crime rate, climate, longevity and economic conditions, including taxes, job opportunities, and cost of living . . . .” (To view the article, see the first link above.)
According to the AARP, the 10 worst states for retirement in 2011, ranked in order from 41st to 50th, were Wisconsin, New York, Washington, Rhode Island, Maryland, Alaska, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan and Maine.
What makes these states particularly unattractive for senior citizens? With the exception of Maryland, they have colder climates. But that in itself is not a sufficient explanation. The very MoneyRates.com study that AARP used as its source (see the second link above) ranked three Snow Belt states (Iowa, South Dakota and Nebraska) among the top 11 for retirees, and even frigid North Dakota came in 16th. The bottom-ranking states, overwhelmingly, are in the Snow Belt AND lack a Right to Work law on the books to protect employees from termination for refusal to join or pay dues to an unwanted union.
Right to Work states, even if they are located in the North, are attractive to senior citizens because they all have low to moderate living costs, while the vast majority also have superior long-term job-creation records. Many of today’s “retirees” must take both these economic issues into consideration when deciding where to locate, because they plan to work part time. In an era in which it is normal to live two decades or more after reaching the traditional retirement age of 65, this is often a good option.
Since work opportunities factor significantly into what makes a state desirable place to retire, it isn’t surprising that families with minor children as well as senior citizens are flocking to Right to Work states. Families in Right to Work states benefit from having higher real spendable incomes, once interstate differences in living costs are taken into account, just as much as senior citizens do.
Or perhaps even more. Census data show that, even though the K-12 school-aged (five to 17 years-old) population of the U.S. grew at a snail’s pace nationwide from 2000 to 2010, it increased by a healthy 8.7% in the 22 Right to Work states as a group. (This year, Indiana became the 23rd Right to Work state.) Meanwhile, the K-12 school-aged population of the 28 forced-unionism states fell by 3.2%. That’s an 11.9 percentage point gap. By comparison, from 2000 to 2010, the senior citizen (aged 65 and over) population of the 22 Right to Work states grew by 20.4%, while forced-unionism states’ senior-citizen population increased by 11.8%. That’s an 8.6 percentage point gap.
Since international migration affects Right to Work states and non-Right to Work states roughly equally, the Census data show that, on average, families with minor children (or plans to have minor children) are even more apt to move from a non-Right to Work state to a Right to Work state than are retirees. Forced-unionism apologists such as the Economic Policy Institute’s Gordon Lafer, who try to pretend that Right to Work states’ rapid population growth relative to the national average is a consequence of international migration and retirees flocking to the Sun Belt, simply aren’t supported by the facts.