A couple weeks ago, Bankrate.com, a well-known consumer financial services website, produced a ranking of states as places to retire. By its calculations, Washington State was the third worst for golden-years living, trailing only Oregon and Alaska.
The teasing write-up–“Despite its stunning natural beauty,” it began–cited cost-of-living and crime rates above the national average and an average annual temperature of 48.7 degrees. “The Evergreen State is one of the colder states in the nation,” Bankrate.com declared. And as for taxes–usually a key factor in these listings–Bankrate.com cited Tax Foundation data putting Washington State’s average tax burden on its citizens in the middle of the 50-state pack despite the absence of a state income tax. As I have noted here before, those states lacking a state income tax have a funny way of making up the revenue loss with higher other taxes, most notably on real estate.
The absence of Washington State venues from such lists is the norm. Check out the current list at U.S. News & World Report. And this one at the Huffington Post. And this one by MarketWatch.com. And this new one of best retirement places for baby boomers. Over the years, I have been the compiler of many retirement-place lists for Forbes.com. This year, three have been published: an overall list focusing on value, best places for a working retirement, and top places to retire rich.
No Washington State entries on any of them.
It’s not total goose-eggs-across-the-board for Evergreen State venues. A current CNN.com list includes Bellingham, much closer to the Canadian border than to Seattle, largely on the basis of senior citizen learning programs at Western Washington University. The 100-entry-long list at TopRetirements.com includes four Washington State cities, though none in the top quarter: Seattle, Spokane, Bellingham and, on the northeast corner of the Olympic Peninsula, Port Townsend (which also made an AARP list of “great quirky places to retire.”)
In 2010, a one-time Forbes.com list I put together of top inner-city neighborhoods for retirement included Seattle’s Magnolia section. I’m not retired, but at least I eat my own cooking; when I became New To Seattle the following year, that’s where I settled.
Most of these lists tend to be data-driven, which is why Seattle and other Washington State places tend to fare so poorly. The cost of living, especially housing costs, is high by national standards and the tax situation iffy at best. The winters are colder (although that hasn’t stopped places in North Dakota and Montana from making some of these lists). Crime rates are low but not that low.
Scenic beauty, of which Seattle has plenty, is somewhat harder to quantify and thus gets shorter shrift. So as a retirement lure, the whales and Mount Rainier just don’t cut it.