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All Contents © 2019The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Stacy Rapacon, Online Editor
| July 23, 2018
There's no rule that says you must head south for retirement. America's Heartland has plenty for retirees to love. Many states in the Midwest offer affordability, beautiful scenery, an abundance of activities and quality health care. In fact, two midwestern states rank among the top four best states for retirement in 2018.
To come up with this list of great places to retire in the Midwest, we first pinpointed one great retirement destination in each of the 50 states, taking into account living costs, safety, median incomes and poverty rates for retirement-age residents, as well as residents' sense of well-being and the availability of recreational and health care facilities. Here are our retirement picks in the 12 midwestern states. Some (if not all) are sure to surprise you.
The list is ordered alphabetically by state. The 12 states in the Midwest region are classified by the U.S. Census Bureau. See "How We Picked the Best Places to Retire" at the end of the list for details on our data sources and methodology.
Population: 9.5 million**
Share of population 65+: 11.0%
Cost of Living: 0.4% above the national average*
Average Income for Households 65+: $76,609
Community Score: 59.5**
State's Tax Rating for Retirees: Mixed
Part of the sprawling Chicago metro area, along with nearby Joliet, this suburb lets you take a step back from city living while keeping you close enough to enjoy its benefits whenever you'd like. Naperville (city population: 147,682) offers a pedestrian-friendly downtown loaded with shops and restaurants, as well as the 1.75-mile Riverwalk.
The ride from Naperville to Chicago's Union Station is about an hour, and people 65 and over qualify for reduced fares on the Metra commuter-rail system. Once in the city, you can relish everything that makes Chicago famous, including its food, bars, beaches, architecture, sports teams and art scene.
*Based on cost of living in Joliet-Will County.
**Based on Chicago metro area data.
Share of population 65+: 13.6%
Cost of Living: 8.3% below the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $42,732
Community Score: 59.7
State's Tax Rating for Retirees: Least Tax Friendly
The Fort Wayne metro area's affordability will not cost you in amenities. Despite being home to a nice collection of quiet neighborhoods, it also houses a thriving arts scene and hosts a number of festivals and events throughout the year, including the family-friendly Three Rivers Festival in the summers. Indeed, the three local rivers—the St. Marys, the St. Joseph and the Maumee—are a main feature of the area, providing ample opportunities for canoeing, kayaking and cruising. More outdoor attractions: Fort Wayne is home to 86 parks and more than 90 miles of hiking and biking trails.
Fort Wayne is by no means a metropolis—the population of the city proper is 265,904—but if you ever feel the need for a small-town escape head two hours south to Richmond, the cheapest small town in America. Its claim to fame (other than being budget-friendly): Some of the earliest jazz records were recorded in Richmond by such greats as Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong.
Share of population 65+: 12.2%
Cost of Living: 10.1% below the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $46,947
Community Score: 65.7
State's Tax Rating for Retirees: Not Tax Friendly
For retirees looking to live in a big city on a small budget, Des Moines is a good choice. Affordability is just one reason the Milken Institute ranked the state capital fifth out of 100 large U.S. metro areas for successful aging. Des Moines also boasts a strong economy and plenty of health care facilities specializing in aging-related services.
Retirees won’t lack for things to do, either. There are numerous museums and arts venues, including an outdoor sculpture park, a zoo and botanical gardens. There’s even a casino and racetrack in nearby Altoona that hosts annual camel, ostrich and zebra races (sorry, no wagering allowed).
Population: 2.1 million
Share of population 65+: 13.3%
Cost of Living: 8.5% below the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $52,183
Community Score: 62.1
The metro area straddles two states and offers a wide range of attractions for people of all ages including retirees. The music and arts scene is particularly vibrant, being home to legendary jazz musician Charlie Parker as well as the American Jazz Museum, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts and the Kansas City Art Institute. For foodies, authentic barbeque is big, too. And you can entertain visiting grandkids with Legoland, the Sea Life aquarium and the Kansas City Zoo.
Also, the main campus of the University of Kansas, with all the amenities of college life, is less than 40 miles away in Lawrence. The university's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute offers low-cost classes and special events designed for inquisitive people 50 and older. Also, KU's Landon Center on Aging houses clinical and research facilities focused on the treatment of older adults.
Share of population 65+: 12.0%
Cost of Living: 22.3% above the national average*
Average Income for Households 65+: $68,454
Community Score: 66.3
Another college town well suited to retirees, Ann Arbor is home to the University of Michigan with all its educational programs (including the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute), sporting events and cultural affairs. The university also runs the Geriatrics Center & Institute of Gerontology, which focuses on health care issues that come with aging. Along with its research facilities, medical facilities and staff, the Center offers programs and classes to help older adults maximize their good health and independence.
In fact, Ann Arbor's health care facilities are top-notch, earning it a sixth-place ranking among small metro areas for successful aging, according to the Milken Institute. There are 22.5 health care facilities per 1,000 seniors in the metro area, compared with just 19 per 1,000 seniors in the U.S. Along with quality health care, Milken recognizes the area's public transportation options as a winning attribute for older residents. A downside, however, is affordability. The median home value is $250,200, versus $127,800 for the rest of the state.
*Provided by Sperling's Best Places.
Population: 3.5 million
Share of population 65+: 12.3%
Cost of Living: 4.5% above the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $53,799
Community Score: 64.2
If the cold winters and equally harsh tax situation don't put you off of the North Star State, the Minneapolis metro area—including state capital, St. Paul—can be a great place to retire. In fact, the Milken Institute rates it as the 14th-best large metro area for successful aging, citing its livability including low crime rate and low senior poverty rate; high engagement of its older population; long life expectancy; and many outdoor recreation options (it’s the Land of 10,000 Lakes, after all).
One downside: Though the area's health-care system is expanding providers—it already has more than 24 facilities per 1,000 seniors—it does not have enough hospital beds, diagnostic centers or magnet hospitals, according to the Milken Institute.
Population: 2.8 million
Share of population 65+: 14.8%
Cost of Living: 9.3% below the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $49,888
Community Score: 60.0
The Gateway to the West can be a nice retirement destination, especially if you're looking to rein in costs. Housing is particularly affordable with the city's median home value at a mere $120,900, compared with $141,200 for the state and $184,700 for the nation as a whole.
But low costs don't limit opportunities for living it up. Foodies can enjoy an eclectic collection of dining options, many influenced by the various ethnic groups that call the city home. (Italian-influenced toasted ravioli is a local favorite.) What to wash it all down with? Beer, naturally. Home to Anheuser-Busch, as well as a growing crop of craft breweries and brew pubs, St. Louis takes suds seriously. And to balance out all that good food and spirits, explore the area's hundreds of parks and miles of trails and waterways. St. Louis also has an abundance of health care facilities, more than 40 establishments per 1,000 seniors in the metro area, double the U.S. average.
Share of population 65+: 12.4%
Cost of Living: 6.6% below the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $50,417
Lincoln may not be home to financial guru Warren Buffett like Omaha, which is about an hour north, but it has plenty of other notable points to recommend it. The capital city offers an abundance of attractions, including more than 100 parks, fine restaurants, an active nightlife, and a number of museums and theaters. Highlights include the Sunken Gardens (for budding horticulturalists) and the Museum of American Speed (for car enthusiasts).
Being a college town, home to both the University of Nebraska's Lincoln campus and Union College, the population may skew young. But Lincoln is also prepared to assist its aging residents with about 26 health-care and social service facilities per 1,000 seniors, compared with 19 per 1,000 seniors in the U.S.
Share of population 65+: 14.4%
Cost of Living: 1.2% below the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $41,598
Community Score: n/a
State's Tax Rating for Retirees: Tax Friendly
After ranking all 50 states based on financial factors critical to retirees, North Dakota placed a surprising fourth best in the U.S. for retirement. So if you do make the unorthodox choice to spend your golden years in the Peace Garden State, give serious consideration to Bismarck—especially if you're seeking an encore career. The capital city’s strong economy means plenty of employment opportunities for older adults, particularly in the services sector.
If you're hoping for a more leisurely retirement, there are a number of biking and hiking trails and parks around the city, as well as on the banks of the Missouri River. You can also enjoy cruising, boating, kayaking and canoeing the river during warmer months. Bundle up if you venture out in winter. From December through February, average temperatures in Bismarck are in the teens.
Population: 2.0 million
Cost of Living: 10.3% below the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $46,905
Community Score: 61.2
The biggest city in the Buckeye State comes with some of the smallest costs. In fact, it's one of the most affordable big cities in the U.S. The median home value in Columbus, the state capital, is just $131,800, compared with the national median of $184,700.
Affordability doesn't equate to lack of activities. Home to Ohio State University, locals can enjoy the co-ed culture, including big sporting events, concerts and cultural diversions. It also offers Program 60, which invites Ohio residents age 60 and older to take university courses free. Off campus, the downtown area has a lively scene with an eclectic mix of shops, galleries and restaurants. The Short North and German Village neighborhoods, in particular, are worth exploring.
Cost of Living: 7.0% below the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $45,780
State's Tax Rating for Retirees: Most Tax Friendly
If you've never considered moving to South Dakota, perhaps you should. We recently ranked it the best state for retirement. And Sioux Falls is a particularly great spot to settle. It is filled with advantages, including a booming economy, low unemployment and hospitals specializing in geriatric services. For all these reasons, plus the city's recreational activities (including regularly scheduled pinochle and pickleball), the Milken Institute dubbed Sioux Falls the 5th best small metro area for successful aging.
And all that comes pretty cheap for retirees. Along with low overall living costs in Sioux Falls, the median home value is $161,500, compared with $184,700 for the U.S. (The median for the state at $146,700.) Plus, the state's tax picture is one of the best for retirees.
Share of population 65+: 12.8%
Cost of Living: 7.6% above the national average
Average Income for Households 65+: $47,822
Community Score: 65.3
The Badger State capital and home to the University of Wisconsin, Madison has a strong economic base to support a thriving retirement. That's part of what makes it the second-best city for successful aging among 100 large metro areas, according to the Milken Institute. Other winning attributes: an abundance of quality health care, academic and other opportunities afforded by the university, and plenty of museums, libraries and recreational facilities.
A downside: Living costs are fairly high for a Midwestern city. Housing- and health-related expenses are 9.4% and 22.9% above average, respectively. Be sure your nest egg is up to the task. If it is, you’ve found a great place to retire.
To pinpoint one great retirement destination in each state, we weighed a number of factors: