Sunday, March 16, 2014

Florida and Wyoming duke it out as retirement destinations

Headline in today's Casper Star-Tribune: Forget Florida, Wyoming is number one for retirees

It's funny for a lot of different reasons.Wyoming is not the first state that comes to mind when retirement is mentioned. Florida and Arizona are obvious codger destinations. Florida is warm most of the time and it is filled with nifty little retirement communities where you commute in golf carts and play golf all of the live-long day. Ditto Arizona, although it's a dry heat and it doesn't have as many bugs.

But Wyoming? A recent study ranked Wyoming high on the list of job opportunities for retirees, with its 4 percent unemployment rate. It also ranked high on economic security and the lack of state income tax. Weather was not ranked, nor was the scenery.

Fact is, retirement ain't what it used to be. When I was growing up in Florida in the '60s and '70s, the place was lousy with old people. They migrated south from Massachusetts and Michigan to warm their old bones and play shuffleboard out in the January sun. They clogged the roads, their little old grey heads popping up from behind their big Caddy or Lincoln steering wheels. You often got behind them in grocery store checkout lines as they counted out their pennies, nickels and dimes to make exact change. Here you were, young and in a hurry to be somewhere, while someone your grandma's age was counting out change and asking the clerk if she wanted to see photos of her grandchildren.

Now retirees my age are cruising the great rivers of Europe, climbing Macchu Picchu and surfing Costa Rica's bitchin' waves. It's enough to make you veg out on a recliner watching Charlie's Angels reruns. But your friends will make fun of you. What are you, some kind of 21-year-old slacker sitting in front of a screen all day? Get out and do something!

Wyoming offers 98,000 square miles of outdoors. The summers are so nice that I feel guilty when I'm indoors. You can ski or snowboard in winter if your 60-something knees are better than mine. Snowmobiling is a better alternative, as long as you don't get stuck in a snowbank or -- God forbid -- an avalanche. The sun shines on winter days, more often than not, but the wind blows a mean streak. More than one spindly senior citizen has been blown to Nebraska in near-hurricane-force March winds. I have much too much meat on my bones to go airborne during a chinook.

There's another factor at work for retirement destinations. If they have kids, retirees want to be close to them and their grandkids or other family members. Our son lives in Tucson and his sister is thinking about joining him there. My wife Chris and I grew up in Florida and all of our surviving siblings and their kids live there. We have good reasons for living in FL or AZ. Most of our friends are on the CO-WY Front Range. And there is so much to do in Colorado. Chris and I plan to be busy with the arts and volunteering and travel.

So which destination is it? AZ, CO, FL or WY?

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