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Is Olympia a terrible place to retire?


At a recent retirement-support group for state workers, a goodly portion of the attendees expressed an interest in moving out of state — and even out of the country. The conversation focused primarily on low cost of living. Left unmentioned was becoming involved civically or connecting to place. “Home” in one’s retirement years was apparently seen as an instrumental choice akin to selecting the laundry detergent that was currently on sale.

By that measure, I can see why the Puget Sound region ranked so poorly in Zumper’s 2017 list of best places to retire. We were ranked 114 out of 117 metropolitan areas in the United States. Meanwhile, at the top of the list were:

  1. Tucson, Arizona
  2. Redding, California
  3. Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, Florida
  4. Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, Arizona
  5. Pensacola-Ferry Pass-Brent, Florida

These top picks shared a number of qualities, such as the percentage of population over 65 years old, a low cost of living, a low crime rate, easy access to healthcare and lots of sunshine.

The Seattle-Bellevue-Tacoma region scored well in household income but low on the percentage of the population that is retired, housing affordability, the number of physicians per capita and weather.

The sharp-eyed reader will quickly note that Olympia would likely fare better than our friends to the north when it comes to housing affordability, safety and access to healthcare. So why the misleading headline in my story?

I’d like to draw your attention to The Olympian’s coverage of the Zumper rankings. Our beloved monopoly daily newspaper ran the same story as the News Tribune without changing the headline or adding any Olympia-specific information. For example, another News Tribune article noted that Thurston County’s median price for homes sold in July was $295,000, which was meaningfully lower than the $312,250 for Pierce County.

Hey, Olympian: Maybe Thurston County is the best place to retire in the metropolitan Puget Sound if you’re on a tight budget. Might that be worth discussing, or is writing a local angle too expensive?

Of course, even Olympia doesn’t compare with the likes of Cleveland, let alone Tucson, when it comes to housing affordability. So those looking for the sale-priced deodorant may still be drawn elsewhere.

My hope is that those with a strong sense of civic engagement will continue to view Olympia as the happening place to be. Historically, some of the biggest advances in the local green movement have been at least partly driven by elderly activists such as Gita Moulton, Gene Dziedzic and Jerry Parker. Now, more than ever, we need retirees’ wisdom, skills and free time.

How might we more effectively support retirees who feel a commitment to place? We might start by acknowledging their great value to our organizations.


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