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Two Number Ones!
But no resting on laurels...
Several months ago, Iowa was named the best state to retire in by “Bankrate,” a financial services company. I admit to being a bit surprised. Fifty states were scored in five categories: affordability (40%), healthcare cost & quality (20%), a vague category entitled “community wellbeing” (25%), weather (10%), and crime rate (5%). Iowa dislodged Florida from last year’s highest ranking; Florida fell to #8.
Rounding out the top five are Delaware, West Virginia, Missouri, and Mississippi. Without intending to sound harsh, these states don’t strike me as being exactly heaven on earth. But then, I guess we all can make our own assessment of what constitutes the good life. Mine is below.
Here’s how Iowa won: Evaluators noted our friendly citizens in a peaceful countryside, contributing to a relaxed -- and affordable -- lifestyle. We’re the sixth least expensive place, due largely to modest housing costs. Nationally, the median home price is $388,800; in Iowa, it’s $239,400. Iowa is near the middle on taxes, 23rd for property taxes, 22nd for state and local sales taxes. And, the study noted, “If you’re looking for retirement-age friends, you’ll have a good chance of finding them in (Iowa), where nearly 20% of the population is age 65 and older.”
It wasn’t all bouquets for Iowa, however. Quoting one report, “Meanwhile, potential retirees seeking a cultural melting pot and warm weather, Iowa may not be a good choice. It ranks poorly for racial and ethnic diversity, and its community-wellbeing index is subpar. It also is generally colder in Iowa and has a high incidence of tornadoes, which may not be appealing for many retirees.”
So, how do you think our state stacks up? Bear in mind, this study focused on retirees, when affordability and healthcare tend to rise in importance. Many in my age cohort prefer a more diverse age base… when expansion needs are greater for elementary schools than for nursing homes. Count me among them.
I’ve not seen a recent study on the best place to raise a family. Presumably, affordability would also be weighted highly, but Iowa’s slumping educational rankings may offset some of that advantage. It's also possible that high marks for affordability rest on low wages, an undesirable factor for many young families.
Other factors I’d emphasize in the community wellbeing category are accessible places to explore nature/the outdoors, plus nearby arts and cultural amenities. Iowa probably scores near the middle in these qualities. True, we don’t possess the Grand Canyon but we have mighty rivers, east and west. We lack Minnesota’s lakes but boast terrific trout streams and navigable waterways. Granted, retirees with significant physical limitations might not benefit from these assets. And, unfortunately, many of our creeks, rivers, and lakes are shamefully more polluted than they should be.
One additional observation about quality of life. Iowa’s vibrant two- and four-year colleges and the state’s university system attract and retain much of what makes Iowa special… faculty, staff, and especially students, many of whom launch careers here after graduation. Energy and enlightenment pulsate from our state’s campuses, flavoring their communities and to a lesser extent, our whole state.
A short while after Iowa’s glowing retirement ranking came out, we scored another number one… in a negativeassessment: our rural bridges are worst in the country. Iowa has almost 15,000 bridges requiring attention, more than any other state. For comparison, Illinois, a state the same size, has just over 4,000.
This isn’t new news, which makes it more disappointing. Of the 23,720 bridges in the state, 4,558, or 19.2 percent, are classified as structurally deficient (at least one element in poor or worse condition). This is a very modest decrease from 4,575 structurally deficient bridges in 2019. In four years, we’ve improved a mere 17 bridges.
Come on, Iowa; let’s do better! After all, what’s the benefit of affordability if we can’t safely cross a stream?
I’m pleased to be part of the Iowa Writers’ Collaborative, along with these colleagues: