Retirees Broaden Destinations

Sun havens Florida and California are still the most popular states for retiring Americans, but both lost ground in the lucrative retiree market during the 1980s, according to a new study.

Meanwhile, North Carolina has become a rising star as a retirement spot; Virginia and Georgia climbed into the top 10 for the first time in 1990; and Washington, at number eight, maintained the same position it held in 1980.

Idaho was a distant 39th, dropping two spots from 37th in 1980 according to Charles F. Longino, a professor at Wake Forest University and Bowman Gray School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Most Americans stay put when they retire, Longino observed, with 84 percent of people age 55 and over saying they want to remain in their current homes.

But those who do relocate have become the focus of intense marketing campaigns, creating a “mailbox economy” in retirement communities that receive a monthly infusion of cash from pensions, investments and Social Security.

Becoming a retirement center can be a real economic boon for a state, he said, and the process tends to feed on itself. Once an area becomes known as a retirement center, services move in and it becomes more attractive to retirees - until it becomes too crowded or too old.

“California has really become, in the last decade, more of a sending state than a receiving state,” Longino said in an interview. “The net balance has shifted.”

“You can speculate endlessly about what causes it,” he said. “Probably it partly has to do with immigration, floods, earthquakes and so forth.”

Also, he said, economic problems in a state might prompt people to sell costly homes there and invest the money in retirement areas where housing is cheaper.

Florida is a different story, he said. The drop-off there is more recent and smaller.

“I suspect what is going on is that North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and parts of Virginia are beginning to form a barrier between the Northeast and Florida,” Longino said.

California, which attracted 13.7 percent of retirees between 1955 and 1960, had fallen to 8.7 percent by 1975-80 and just 6.9 percent in the 1985-90 span, though it ranked second in each period.

The Census Bureau counts American movers every 10 years, asking about movement in the preceding five years. Thus, statistics on relocations cover the last half of each decade.

The third- and fourth-ranked states in 1990, Arizona and Texas, also slipped slightly from their 1980 totals, though keeping the same positions. Arizona fell from 5.7 percent to 5.2 percent of retirees, while Texas slipped from 4.7 percent to 4.1 percent.

On the other hand, North Carolina has been rocketing upward from 27th place in 1960 to 17th in 1970, seventh in 1980 and fifth in the 1990 count, with 3.4 percent of movers.

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