Published in Pawtucket Times on February 1, 2016
Here we go again. This month, America’s tiniest state gets outed as being the most unfavorable state to live out your retirement years. According to a new WalletHub study, “2016’s Best & Worse States to Retire,” when compared to all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, Rhode Island came in dead last when compared against 24 metrics falling in one of these three categories (Affordability, Quality of Life and Health Care).
WalletHub, an internet site that calls itself “a personal finance Web site, taps Florida as being the top state to live your retirement years, followed by Wyoming, South Dakota, South Carolina and Colorado. The in-depth analysis, geared to identifying the most retirement-friendly states, gives the Ocean States the distinct of being the worst place to live in your later years, followed by the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Connecticut and Vermont.
As to affordability, WalletHub looked at the adjusted cost of living, tax friendliness of a state, it’s taxation on pensions and Social Security income, and annual cost of in-home services. Rhode Island was ranked 51 (the worst) in affordability for retirees. In zeroing in on this specific variable, the state came in 41st in adjusted cost of living; 45th in annual cost of in-home services and 48th in taxpayer rankings.
For a state’s quality of life, WallettHub zeroed in on an array of variables including the number of theatres, museums, music venues, golf courses. The researchers also checked out crime rates, weather, the number people age 65 and older and whether the state’s labor is elderly friendly. A sampling of Rhode Island specific rankings for this variable include a ranking of 35th for Museums per Capita; 42nd for Theaters per Capita; and 48th for the number of golf courses per Capita; and 32nd in having employed residents age 65 and over.
As for health care, the study examined the number of family physicians, dentists, nurses, and health-care facilities per 100,000 residents, the ranking of the state’s public hospitals, the resident’s life expectancy and emotional health, even taking a look at the death rate for people age 65 and older. Rhode Island ranks 49th in number of family physicians per 100,000 Residents.
WallettHub analyst, Jill Gonzalez, says that for Rhode Island to become a mecca for retirees, state lawmakers must reconsider how they tax Social Security and pensions. The state’s current tax policy “is not at “all friendly toward retirees,” she adds.
According to Gonzalez, the state’s cost of living index is also high at 122 while the national index is 100. This means that if the cost of goods and services nationwide is $100, the Rhode Island retirees will pay $122. Annual costs to pay for home care are nearly $54,000 per year in Rhode Island and state policy makers must find a way to reduce this key community-based service.
Statewide Reactions to Web site Survey
These surveys aggregate data that does not encourage retirement here,” observes AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell. “They do not fully measure quality of life or how the proximity to Boston and New York City make Rhode Island attractive to many retirees. But you often hear people talk about retiring in states where lower taxes and deflated housings prices suggest that retirement income will go dramatically farther.
“The tax issue is a reality driven by the state’s so-called ‘structural deficits’ that have resulted in cities and towns raising property and excise taxes. Meanwhile, hikes in fees and new surcharges have added to the tax burden. Legislative leaders face a great challenge in reversing this trend.
“Many people in their 40s and 50s who want to retire in Rhode Island can save more wisely for retirement and find a way to make it work. Anyone entering retirement now with little savings and expecting to rely primarily on Social Security is faced with difficult decisions.
“So, clearly the survey means different things to different people. Few would disagree that Rhode Island is a great place to retire – maybe one of the best places in the nation. If you can afford it.”
Edward Mazze, Distinguished University Professor of Business Administration, says, “I cannot disagree with the quantitative findings in the study. Behind the numbers are two critical factors that have an impact on retiring in Rhode Island – first, the Rhode Island economy has barely grown in the last eight years – second, the negative reputation of the state with government leaders going to jail, high property taxes, poor school systems and unfunded public pension and health programs.”
Mazze calls on the Rhode Island General Assembly to raise the state estate tax level to the same level as the federal estate tax level and exempt social security benefits from state taxes no matter what the income level. “The legislature has to reduce sales taxes and fees, be more transparent in its operations so that individuals trust government actions and fund the social services that retirees need,” he says.
But even with these negative findings retirees should Rhode Island as place to live because of its strategic location, transportation facilities and cultural and recreational activities. However, he acknowledges that “with the high cost of living in Rhode Island and fewer part-time job opportunities for retirees it is difficult to promote the state as a place to retire.”
Ernie Almonte, Rhode Island’s former auditor and partner at RSM US, LLP, a company that performs audit, tax and consulting services, says the changes in how the state taxes Social Security made by lawmakers last year was a good first step. But the former candidate for State Treasurer urges Governor Gina Raimondo and House and Senate Leadership to take a look at the state’s estate tax in the upcoming session. “I believe last year’s changes made by lawmakers was a move in the right direction but we cannot forget the legislative change to the estate cliff effect. “This certainly is a deciding factor for retirees looking to a place to settle down in their retirement years,” he adds.
Almonte also encourages state lawmakers to sit down with the Rhode Island Society of CPA’s to discuss tax policy. “Having a robust discussion on the role of tax policy to pay for necessary services and investments balanced by the ability to pay and the need to pay would be quite helpful to the long run,” he says.
House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello sees the business climate and economic outlook improving as he works to make the state’s tax structure more competitive with neighboring states. He says that the WallettHub survey did not take into account the repeal of state income tax for most Social Security recipients. The State offers retirees “a great quality of life with easy access to our beaches and we have excellent cultural attractions, restaurants, hospitals and universities, he says.
As she has said over her first year, Governor Gina Raimondo is “laser focused” on improving the quality of life for all Rhode Islanders, says deputy press secretary Katie O’Hanlon. “We’ve made a lot of progress over the past year, including eliminating state taxes on Social Security benefits for low and middle-income seniors and increasing funding for Meals on Wheels. However, we can always find ways to improve, says O’Hanlon.
It’s time for the Rhode Island General Assembly to get serious with enacting legislative proposals to attract retirees, more important to keep them from leaving for other retirement havens. Why not do a thorough review of tax policies of WalletHub’s best five places to retire and seek out best tax practices of other states? In the upcoming legislative session, Governor Raimondo and House and Senate leadership might consider reaching out to AARP Rhode Island and aging groups, along with the Rhode Island Society of CPAs, to organize a tax summit, seeking creative ways to tweak the state’s tax code to retain and attract retirees.
This WebHub study can be found at http://www.wallethub.com/edu/best-and-worst-states-to-retire/18592/.