Mississippi a top retirement choice

Published 3:25 pm Thursday, June 14, 2012

Mississippi is an attractive retirement state, according to TopRetirements.com. The website issued its “Best States for Retirement — 2012” last week. Mississippi tied with Texas, Louisiana, and Alabama for 2nd place.

Which state ranked first? Not Florida. High costs of living have pushed the sunshine state down to 7th.

Top ranked is Tennessee, based on factors author John Brady used: 1) income tax, 2) taxation of Social Security, 3) taxation of pensions, 4) property taxes, 5) cost of living, 6) health care insurance, and 7) climate. Features cited for Tennessee’s ranking were that it taxes interest and dividends only, has low property taxes, has the lowest cost of living in the U.S. contiguous to the Sunbelt, and has an active program to attract retirees.

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Key features cited for Mississippi’s 2nd place ranking were its lack of taxes on pensions and Social Security and its low property taxes – 4th lowest in the nation. Brady reported that Mississippi has 20 certified retirement communities, mentioning Hattiesburg and Oxford.

He also pointed out that not all places in each state should be favorably considered for retirement.

“Note that some of the states on our top 10 list do not have as many attractive places to retire as do others,” he wrote, “which might make them less desirable for you. Every state has resort areas, places near the coast or a lake, or college towns. But states on our list like Florida and Texas offer more choices on places to live than Alabama, Louisiana, Oklahoma, or Mississippi. This might particularly apply to someone from the northeast who is looking for a more familiar environment to live in.”

For rural areas seeking job growth, attracting retirees can be an economic boon. Experts say a retiree couple is the equivalent of 3.7 manufacturing jobs. They bring money into communities, support local businesses, get involved as volunteers, and put little burden on streets, infrastructure, and schools.

Tennessee seeks retirees with an aggressive, stand-alone retirement program that promotes “natural beauty, a mild climate, urban conveniences and rural peacefulness.” Its dedicated retirement website, RetireTennessee.org, features 11 counties, ten of them rural. A unique tool, Tennessee’s “Cost of Living Calculator,” shows relative savings for groceries, housing, utilities, transportation, and health care based on where a person moves from. For example, a family moving from Jackson, MS, to scenic Cumberland County, TN, would save little on groceries but 21 percent on housing, 30 percent on utilities, 4 percent on transportation, and 6 percent on healthcare. Savings go up dramatically if moving from Chicago, Cleveland, or Philadelphia.

Mississippi does not promote retirement so aggressively, operating its program as a subset of its tourism program. Perhaps an aggressive, stand-alone program would help more rural communities attract retirees and grow jobs and get Mississippi a 1st place ranking.

(Bill Crawford (crawfolk@gmail.com) is a syndicated columnist from Meridian.)