July/August 2016

July 1, 2016


BankRate.com Study Identifies 10 Worst Cities for Retirement

Let’s be honest: Some U.S. cities that loyal locals will tell you are great places to live — with lots of friendly people, beautiful scenery and fun things to do — may not be the greatest places for retirees.

Whether you’re actually retired or closing in on your non-working years, you have to weigh several pros and cons when choosing a community to retire in. Do you want outdoor activities, great restaurants and sunshine year-round? How important are the arts?

A city’s dizzying array of cultural offerings and high walkability – 2 factors BankRate used to assess suitability for seniors — could be offset by high taxes and other costs that will pose challenges if you’re on a fixed income.

BankRate scored nearly 200 cities on a range of factors. Some cities wound up at the bottom because of sleety winters, expensive medical care or relatively high crime rates. Others scored low for health care quality, cultural opportunities or the overall well-being of residents.

And in several cases, BankRate noticed that neighboring cities achieved nearly the same score since they were drawing from the same regional statistics. In those cases, the study ranked them together as a combined area.

The following are the bottom 10 cities for retirement.

Rochester, NY – [Weaknesses: Health care, harsh winter, high tax rate] Arts-loving retirees will love Rochester, which can hold its own against any large city when it comes to culture and leisure. Renowned for theater, music and dance, the city on Lake Ontario has an annual Fringe Festival, as well as 2 opera companies, a jazz festival, several film festivals and a wide range of museums and art galleries.

But Rochester earns low marks for health care, which is the case for cities throughout New York state. Still, the University of Rochester Medical School provides excellent care, says Anastasia Broikos, a Rochester resident.

“The real drawback for older people is the winter,” she says, when seniors may have a tougher time getting around in harsh, snowy conditions.

Taxes could be a budget-buster: The combined state and local tax burden in New York is the highest in the United States, according to the Tax Foundation. Rochester also slipped near the bottom of our list for its low walkability score, and for a high rate of violent crime, according to FBI statistics.

Fresno, CA[Weaknesses: Cost of living, high tax rate] Located halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco in the wine-producing San Joaquin Valley, Fresno boasts gardens, museums and parks. People tend to spend more of their recreation time in the outdoors and playing sports, and less time taking in the arts, although Fresno’s William Saroyan Theatre at the Fresno Convention Center is a popular spot for concerts, plays and Broadway musicals.

Seniors who enjoy fishing, camping, hiking and horseback riding will find opportunities in the region, and baseball fans will cheer on the Fresno Grizzlies, an affiliate team of the Houston Astros.

But Fresno’s relatively high cost of living may make it difficult to afford local attractions, and seniors will need a car to get to most of them. While the weather is pleasant most of the year, the sun in the central California valley can mean hot summers.

California’s state and local taxes rank 5th-highest in the country, according to the Tax Foundation, and Fresno’s 8.23% sales tax is higher than the average for the rest of the state.

East Hartford, CT– [Weaknesses: Cost of living, harsh winter, high tax rate] Seniors who are history buffs will revel in East Hartford’s 18th- and 19th-century houses and its role in the Revolution. Several buildings from that era still stand, including the Makens Bemont House, which was built in 1761 and is now a museum.

Situated on the east bank of the Connecticut River, East Hartford is home to part of Wickham Park, a sprawling woodland and nature preserve with formal gardens, woods and a bird sanctuary. Football fans might enjoy attending UConn Huskies home games at Pratt and Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field.

But East Hartford’s fairly high cost of living has landed it near the bottom of our list of cities. Other drawbacks for seniors include the icy New England winters, and taxes. State and local tax collections in Connecticut are the second-highest in the country, according to the Tax Foundation.

Next-door Hartford has a low score similar to East Hartford.   But East Hartford’s fairly high cost of living has landed it near the bottom of our list of cities. Other drawbacks for seniors include the icy New England winters, and taxes. State and local tax collections in Connecticut are the second-highest in the country, according to the Tax Foundation.

Little Rock, AR – [Weaknesses: Health care, crime rate] The upside to life in Little Rock includes a 4-seasons climate with generally pleasant temperatures, access to high-quality health care and an affordable cost of living.

Although the Arkansas capital city may not have as many cultural opportunities as larger cities, it offers a symphony orchestra, arts center and repertory theater. Seniors who enjoy outdoor recreation can take advantage of hiking, boating and many other outdoor activities. The popular River Market District offers a food hall, farmers market, a park alongside the Arkansas River, boutiques and restaurants.

But despite the low costs and good medical care, residents of Little Rock rate their health near the bottom among the cities we studied, and they also give the area low grades for social and financial factors.

The crime statistics for Little Rock could make some seniors pause. Based on FBI statistics, the crime rate is among the worst among all cities studied. In 2014, Little Rock had almost 2,800 violent crimes and more than 4 times as many property crimes.

Worcester, MA – [Weaknesses: Harsh winter, cost of living] Like many New England cities, Worcester is rich in Revolutionary history. It was the first Massachusetts site for a public reading of the Declaration of Independence, and one of its oldest buildings — the Salisbury Mansion and Store, which is now a museum — dates to 1772.

The city boasts scores of cultural institutions, including museums, a botanical garden, concert halls and art galleries. Worcester also has something of a food scene; foodie seniors have their pick of restaurants offering a wide array of international cuisines.

But one drawback — the cold, blustery New England winter — could make going out on the town difficult for retirees during January and February, despite Worcester’s good walkability score. And, a high cost of living means seniors on a budget might not be able to take advantage of all of the area’s entertainment options.

Adding to a retiree’s expenses is Massachusetts’ state and local burden, rated 4th-highest nationally by the Tax Foundation.

Troy, NY[Weaknesses: Cost of living, harsh winter] Architecture buffs will enjoy the majestic 19th-century buildings that mark the central historic district in Troy, located about 160 miles north of Manhattan. The photogenic city on the Hudson River has served as a filming location for “The Age of Innocence,” “The Bostonians” and other movies.

Troy is home to Russell Sage College and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, which features an innovative Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center. Several area churches and institutions have stained glass windows by Louis Comfort Tiffany.

Despite Troy’s many attributes, seniors will face challenges. The cost of living is in the highest third among the cities Bankrate looked at. Cold winters and high taxes also are disadvantages.

The city gains points for walkability, but that might not mean much during months when icy conditions make it difficult for retirees to brave the elements. Some seniors may be put off by the crime rate. According to the FBI, Troy had nearly 2,200 property crimes in 2014, the most recent year for which statistics are available.

Troy’s neighbors in New York’s capital district — Albany and Schenectady — have similar scores among our worst cities.

San Bernardino, CA[Weaknesses: Cost of living, high tax rate, crime] Southern California weather is a point in San Bernardino ‘s favor, with more than 300 sunny days a year. Sports-loving retirees will enjoy baseball’s minor-league Inland Empire 66ers and NASCAR racing at the nearby Auto Club Speedway. The region is home to 6 ski resorts and 4 national parks as well as Big Bear Lake and Lake Arrowhead.

San Bernardino loses points, though, for its high cost of living. California, where tax bills are the 6th-most expensive in the country, can be tough on a retiree ‘s budget. Residents pay 11% of their income to state and local taxes.

Despite the presence of the 1928 California Theatre and a symphony orchestra, San Bernardino scores low for cultural vitality, and the same can be said for walkability, according to Walkscore.com. The crime rate also is a problem. According to the FBI, San Bernardino had more than 9,200 property crimes in 2014.

Nearby Riverside and Ontario have low scores similar to San Bernardino.

Milford, CT – [Weaknesses: Cost of living, high tax rate, harsh winter] Steeped in New England history, Milford is one of Connecticut’s oldest towns and has historic houses (the oldest dates to around 1700) to prove it. Situated along Long Island Sound, the city has miles of saltwater beaches and marshland.

Seniors who are avid birders will enjoy taking bird-watching walks and tours, and Silver Sands Beach on Charles Island is rumored to be the site of Captain Kidd’s loot.

In contrast to Milford’s New England charm are its high cost of living and steep tax rate. Connecticut’s state and local tax collections come in 2nd-highest nationally, according to the Tax Foundation.

Harsh New England winters coupled with the city’s poor walkability scores could mean some seniors wind up stuck at home to avoid tough driving conditions during the cold weather months.

Milford residents give the city high ratings for health but low ratings for civic pride, according to Gallup-Healthways surveys. Its overall well-being score is in last place among the cities we ranked.

Niagara Falls, NY –  [Weaknesses: Highest tax rate in the U.S., crime, harsh winter] Every year, 8 million people come from around the world to visit the country’s oldest state park, featuring that geological wonder, Niagara Falls. Active seniors will enjoy the city’s many bike trails. A myriad of restaurants offers varied cuisines, and the Castellani Art Museum on the nearby campus of Niagara University features an extensive contemporary art collection.

Attractions aside, retirees on a tight budget will have to contend with New York’s state and local tax burden, which is the highest in the country, according to the Tax Foundation. Niagara Falls also has the highest rate of crime in the state, according to FBI figures from 2014.

Despite the abundance of reasonably priced housing and an affordable cost of living, seniors will need to factor in the western New York winters, when icy conditions can make it challenging to get around by foot.

Neighboring cities Buffalo and Cheektowaga also rank near the bottom of our list.

New York, NY – [Weaknesses: Cost of living, highest tax rate in the U.S]. America’s largest city might beckon some retirees and frighten others. A surprisingly low crime rate is a point in the Big Apple ‘s favor, but the city is often dismissed as a playground for the rich, and many people of more modest means can only dream of living there.

“It’s not for everyone,” says Carolyn Greene, a 70-year-old Manhattan resident who is an official with USA Track and Field.

In addition to its famed theater scene, its museums and numerous sports teams, New York offers incredible convenience. Seniors can have nearly anything imaginable delivered to their door, practically around the clock.


AARP Survey Finds Managing Stress and Having a Life Purpose are Closely Associated with Mental Well-Being

Good news: Our feeling of mental well-being increases as we age, with people age 54-plus reporting the highest level of mental well-being, according to AARP’s latest consumer survey. Effectively managing stress levels and pursuing a purpose in life were most closely linked to people’s mental well-being, and African-Americans and married adults reported the highest scores on mental well-being.

“The people who have a greater sense of mental well-being as they go through life are those who engage in the most number of healthy behaviors,” said Sarah Lock, AARP Senior Vice President for Policy, and Executive Director of the Global Council on Brain Health. “We were looking for the connections between positive mental health and brain health and we found people’s secrets to successful aging. Exercising, eating a healthy diet, socializing, managing stress, and learning new things are the best things you can do to improve your mental well-being as you age.”

Using the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Well-Being Scale (WEMWBS), AARP’s latest survey asked adults age 18 and older about their mental well-being and which healthy behaviors they engaged in. The survey also asked what motivated adults to participate in healthy behaviors.

Measuring Well-Being: The 14-item WEMWBS scale examines two dimensions of mental well-being (happiness and psychological functioning) by asking people how frequently they feel about such things as whether they are thinking clearly, and feeling loved, confident, cheerful, relaxed, and interested in new things. The majority of adults said they felt positive about 13 of the 14 items either often or all the time.

Being able to make up their own mind and thinking clearly topped the list of things people said they felt often or all of the time. Feeling relaxed and having energy to spare ranked last. Mental well-being improves in midlife with people age 54 and older having above average scores. Adults between the ages of 27-35 had the lowest average well-being score; people ages 72-plus had the highest average well-being score.

Relationship Between Well-Being and Healthy Behaviors: Effectively managing life’s stresses and pursuing a purpose in life were the two activities most closely correlated with mental well-being. Interestingly, getting 7-8 hours of sleep each night and drinking up to two alcoholic beverages a day were both associated with above average well-being. Also consistently linked to feelings of well-being were learning new things, eating healthy, getting enough sleep, exercising, and reading.

Motivations for Healthy Behaviors: The survey found that adults who engaged in more healthy behaviors had higher levels of mental well-being. Most adults (70%) reported that they participate in healthy behaviors that happen to be good for brain health. People who knew someone with dementia were much more likely than others to be concerned about their own future brain health. Respondents’ top motivations for maintaining brain health:

“Limiting their alcohol intake, reading more, and increasing exercise were the top of the list of things that people said they would be willing to do if they knew they were good for their brain health,” said Lock.

The full results of the survey can be found here: www.aarp.org/2016SurveyonWellBeing.


Medicare and Social Security to Deplete Reserves Within 20 Years

Medicare and Social Security will begin to spend more than they earn by the end of this decade, according to new projections released by the Medicare and Social Security trustees in June. It spotlights an issue that has seen scant attention in an election year..

The annual report card from the programs’ trustees said Medicare’s hospital-insurance trust fund, which provides coverage to more than 55 million Americans, will exhaust its reserves by 2028, two years sooner than estimated last year.

Medicare’s trust fund is projected to face depletion earlier than was forecast last year due to slight revisions in projected incomes and costs, though falling health-care costs in recent years have provided greater breathing room. As recently as 2009, trustees had estimated the hospital-care fund would be depleted by 2017.

Social Security faces depletion by 2034, which would trigger a 21% across-the-board benefit cut if Congress doesn’t act. More than 49 million Americans collected retirement benefits through the program last year, and nearly 11 million received payments from a separate disability-insurance program.

Last year, Social Security beneficiaries didn’t receive any living-cost increase because falling energy prices led to an annual decline in the inflation gauge used to set such increases. Wednesday’s report said it is currently forecasting an increase of just 0.2% in living-cost adjustments at year-end.

The costs of both programs are set to rise due to the aging of the U.S. population, making it difficult for the government to outrun the solvency problems even by sharply boosting economic growth. Medicare and Social Security accounted for 41% of federal spending last year, up from 36% in 2011.

Social Security, designed as a pay-as-you-go program, has been paying out more in benefit dollars than it collects in taxes since 2010. Its annual balances have remained positive due to interest payments it earns on trust-fund assets. By 2020, however, it will pay out more than it collects, even after accounting for interest payments, according to the latest report. After that, it would have to sell assets from its trust fund to pay benefits.

The presidential contest so far has focused less on the looming solvency challenges and more on whether to expand Social Security benefits. During the Democratic nomination battle, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders pushed front-runner Hillary Clinton to support more generous benefits for retirees and to swear off any cuts, positions that have grown popular on the left. Mrs. Clinton has said she supports enhancing benefits for certain, lower-income retirees and has said she backs some sort of increase in taxes on top earners to pay for that and to extend solvency of the program.

President Barack Obama also endorsed for the first time last month expanding Social Security benefits for current and future retirees by raising taxes on wealthier Americans. Just a few years ago, he proposed slowing the annual growth of benefit increases as part of a broader fiscal deal with Republicans that didn’t materialize.

The Republican Party has traditionally been more open to an overhaul of Social Security because as the program nears depletion, it will be more difficult to preserve benefits without raising taxes or increasing government spending. But Donald Trump, the likely GOP nominee, has emphatically spurned calls to extend retirement ages or reduce benefit payments for wealthier Americans.

“We’re going to save your Social Security without killing it like so many people want to do, and your Medicare,” Mr. Trump said at a recent rally in Phoenix.

The program’s solvency issues can’t entirely be solved by economic growth because it faces stiff demographic headwinds. There were 2.8 covered workers for each beneficiary last year, down from 3.2 in 2008, and that ratio is set to slide to 2.2 over the next two decades.

To read a summary of the 2016 annual reports click here.


Whole Grains Support Longer Life

Two large review studies have reached the same conclusion: Eating whole grains is associated with significant reductions in the risk for premature death.

One report, in BMJ, found that whole grain consumption was associated with a reduction in the risk for death from cancer, coronary heart disease, respiratory disease, infectious disease and diabetes. Using data from 45 studies, researchers calculated that compared with eating none, eating 90 grams of whole grains a day reduced the risk for all-cause mortality by 17 percent.

The other analysis, in Circulation, used data from 14 prospective studies with 786,076 participants, and found that compared with those who ate the most, had an 18 percent reduced risk of cardiovascular mortality.

A slice of 100 percent whole grain bread contains about 16 grams, and current dietary guidelines recommend 48 grams or more of whole grains daily. The senior author of the Circulation study, Dr. Qi Sun, an assistant professor at Harvard, cautions: “You shouldn’t hope that you will cure diseases with whole grain foods.”


Alzheimer’s Research Funding on Path for Additional $400 million Increase

Last month, the call for increased Alzheimer’s research funding from Alzheimer’s Association advocates reached a critical milestone, as the Senate Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee announced a proposed $400 million increase for Alzheimer’s research at the NIH. This bipartisan effort was led by Alzheimer’s champions Chairman Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who also oversaw last year’s historic funding increase.

“For the second year in a row the Senate has taken a critical step towards ending the Alzheimer’s epidemic,” said Harry Johns, president and CEO of the Alzheimer’s Association. “At a cost of $236 billion a year, Alzheimer’s is the most expensive disease in the U.S. But much more importantly, it is a terrible reality for millions of American families. Today’s announcement will provide important funding for research that can help bring a way to prevent, treat or cure this devastating disease.”

Alzheimer’s disease is the only leading cause of death in the United without a way to prevent, cure or even slow its progression. Foremost experts have stated that at least $2 billion a year is necessary to meet the first goal of the National Alzheimer’s Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease to prevent and effectively treat Alzheimer’s disease by 2025. Following last year’s historic $350 million increase, research for Alzheimer’s and related dementias currently receives $991 million in NIH funding.

“If signed into law, the funding increase will mark an important milestone in Alzheimer’s research — bringing us past the halfway mark toward the funding level experts agree is necessary to end this epidemic,” said Robert Egge, chief public policy officer of the Alzheimer’s Association. “On behalf of the Alzheimer’s Association and our advocates, we thank the subcommittee for their tremendous bipartisan effort that brings new hope to millions in Missouri, Washington and across the country.”

Today, more than 5 million people are living with Alzheimer’s disease, and there are more than 15 million Americans serving as a caregiver for a friend or family member. Alzheimer’s Association grassroots advocates and staff have worked tirelessly to encourage Congress to address the Alzheimer’s epidemic. As a result, Congress is on track with today’s developments to have more than tripled NIH funding for Alzheimer’s research over its level when Congress unanimously passed the National Alzheimer’s Project Act in December 2010.

The full Senate Committee on Appropriations will consider the bill in July. For more information on Alzheimer’s disease, visit alz.org.


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