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Elbow Room, Cheap Housing Lure Seniors

Colorado, Idaho, Utah and New Mexico are attractive destinations, census figures show. Many retirees are leaving California.

March 14, 2004|Genaro C. Armas | Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON — Sunshine and warm temperatures aren't the only lures for retirees. They also want cheaper housing and elbow room, and that has made places like Colorado, Idaho, Utah and New Mexico more attractive to the over-65 set.

Each of those states saw its senior population grow by at least 6% between 2000 and 2003, placing them among the 10 fastest-growing states for that age group, according to Census Bureau figures.

Much of the growth is due to active retirees from California who go looking for destinations with four-season climates, less congestion and cheaper living costs, said William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.

"What's happening is that Baby Boomers who moved to California are just now reaching retirement age," he said. "California is really sort of a bubbling population of elderly ready to escape high housing costs."

A separate 2002 census survey found that the median home value in California was above $275,000, compared with $199,000 in Colorado and $116,000 in New Mexico.

Nevada, which leads the nation in most population-growth categories, is tops among the 65-and-over crowd as well. That population increased 15% between 2000 and 2003.

Alaska was second at 14%. However, that is thought to be due more to the aging of the state's own residents than to retirees moving in. Arizona, long a popular retirement destination, followed Alaska, with 7% growth in the 65-and-older population.

Nationally, that senior population rose almost 3%, to 35.9 million.

Many retirees in states such as Idaho and Colorado enjoy the mountain vistas and fresh air but stay close to cities such as Boise and Denver to gain easy access to healthcare, transportation and shopping, said Mark Fagan, a sociologist at Jacksonville State University in Alabama and an expert in retiree migration.

California, by far the most populous state, has the largest number of people 65 and older, 3.8 million, up almost 5% from 2000. It was followed by Florida and New York.

Seventeen percent of Florida's population of 17 million is 65 and older, the largest proportion in the country. Pennsylvania and West Virginia had the next biggest shares of older residents.

The Census Bureau released overall state estimates for 2003 last fall. The U.S. population of nearly 291 million is up 3% since 2000.

The latest release offers a more detailed breakdown by age groups. Some other highlights:

* The national population of 5- to 13-year-olds declined slightly between 2000 and 2003 to 36.7 million, in part a reflection of people having fewer children or delaying childbirth until later in life, Frey said.

It was the only population that declined among the groups analyzed by the bureau.

* The 85-and-older population rose 11%, 4.2 million to 4.7 million, the fastest-growing group. Nevada saw the biggest jump in this population, rising 30%.

About 2.5% of North Dakota's population is 85 or older, the largest proportion among states, followed by Iowa and South Dakota. Those are states that have struggled to retain younger residents, many of whom move away in search of higher-paying jobs.

"At the end of the day, it's not special or unique services that keep elderly people here. It's the fact that they have community ties and have built bonds with people -- friends and lifelong associates," said Chuck Hassebrook, head of the Center for Rural Affairs, based in Lyons, Neb.

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