Top 10 (Surprisingly) Best Cities for Retirees

The Center for a Secure Retirement’s list of cities had several great choices and a few real head-scratchers

San Francisco's Lombard Street. San Francisco's Lombard Street.

Bankers Life and Casualty’s Center for a Secure Retirement released a survey in September detailing the best U.S. cities, and their surrounding metropolitan areas, for seniors. AdvisorOne culled the top 10 from the survey of 50 cities.

Some of the cities, like Denver, have appeared on “best” lists before. Some, however, were a surprise as an overall choice (Newark, N.J., really?) and some were a surprise because of their frigid weather (apparently, the survey didn't think all those seniors in sunbelt cities like Sarasota and Phoenix would mind experiencing the joys of a Minnesota winter).

Sperling’s Best Places compiled the list based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the American Medical Association, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Medicare databases and other sources.

Cities were selected for their quality of health care, transportation, housing, social life, environment, economy, health and longevity of their residents, spiritual life and crime level. Some categories were more heavily weighted in the decision based on their impact on seniors’ lives, but in Newark's case, it appears the ability to catch a 3 a.m. train to Manhattan was weighted as real important to someone who usually eats dinner at 5.

newark, nj10.  NEWARK, N.J. Highest score: 97.9 (Transportation) Lowest score: 2 (Housing)

Our newsroom struggled to understand why Newark was on any “best of” list, but the survey found the city scored high in transportation and safety. The survey called Newark a “transportation hub” for the area. Just 10 miles from Manhattan, trains are available 24 hours a day.

The city also scored high for social life, featuring cultural attractions like the Newark Museum, the New Jersey Performing Arts Center and Symphony Hall—all of which are accessible by trolley or light rail.

Adding to the city’s ranking is the presence of several colleges and universities, including Rutgers University, Seton Hall University School of Law and the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

It had one of the lowest scores in housing, merely ranking a 2 in that category. It was not, however, the lowest score; that distinction is bestowed on Nassau-Suffolk counties, N.Y.

Kansas City, MO9.  KANSAS CITY, MO. Highest score: 87.7 (Spiritual Life) Lowest score: 10.2 (Transportation)

For some of us, mentions of Kansas City bring to mind Ernest Hemingway before anything else, but the city offers a rich jazz and blues scene, the survey found.

The city ranked well in spiritual life and health care, and scored 77.5 in environment. Additionally, the city boasts a relatively low cost of living (housing scored 73.4).

The survey also pointed to Kansas City’s culinary contributions, Kansas City-style barbecue in particular—which may explain why the city’s health and longevity score is just under 45.

Portland, Ore.8.  PORTLAND, ORE. Highest score: 83.6 (Environment and Transportation) Lowest score: 34.6 (Spiritual Life)

Hipster haven Portland is also known as the City of Roses, according to the survey, for the large number of rose gardens. The city ranked well in environment thanks to a mild climate and plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities. Transportation, which includes a wheelchair-accessible light rail and commuter aerial tramway between the South Waterfront district and Marquam Hill, and safety were also high-scorers for Portland.

The survey found Portland is one of the most environmentally friendly cities in the world (yet San Francisco ranked the highest for environment).

San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge7.  SAN FRANCISCO Highest score: 100 (Environment) Lowest score: 10.2 (Housing)

San Francisco earned the top score in not just one but two categories. The top score for transportation in a city known for cable cars may come as no surprise, but San Francisco also took the highest score in environment for its “sunny climate,” clean air and many parks and conservatories.

Social life and health and longevity also brought high scores for the city, but its housing score was just 10.2, one of the lowest in the survey. The economy also ranked low at just 22.4.

The Milwaukee Art Museum on Milwaukee Bay6.  MILWAUKEE Highest score: 97.9 (Health Care and Economy) Lowest score: 40.8 (Crime)

Milwaukee may be best known for beer—PBR, anyone?—but the survey found a high concentration of medical centers and health care nonprofits in the city. Milwaukee also scored high in economy, with a workforce that relies on service-sector jobs.

Transportation is another high score for Milwaukee, though housing and social life ranked rather lower at 46.9 and 44.8, respectively.

Colorado state capitol building in Denver5.  DENVER Highest score: 91.8 (Environment) Lowest score: 53 (Economy)

Claims have been made that the Mile High City gets 300 days of sunshine per year. That number may be slightly inflated, but the city boasts low rates of disease and depression, and maintains a high life expectancy, according to the survey. One of the city’s hospitals, Denver Health, has the lowest mortality rate of any academic medical center in the country, the survey found.

Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame4.  CLEVELAND Highest score: 93.8 (Health Care and Housing) Lowest score: 20.4 (Environment)

Low rents and housing prices, coupled with a strong economy focused on health care, finance and insurance, put Cleveland on the list. The city also ranked well in the social and spiritual life categories.

Although Cleveland scored almost a 94 in the health care category, its score for health and longevity was just 28.5. The survey notes that the city features many hospitals and physicians who specialize in geriatric issues.

Pittsburgh3.  PITTSBURGH Highest score: 100 (Economy) Lowest score: 16.3 (Environment)

Pittsburgh scored highest in economy thanks to booming health care, technology and financial sectors. Robotics and biotechnology have replaced manufacturing, according to the survey.

Additionally, nearly 18% of the population is 65 or older, and the city ranked high in spiritual life, public transport and crime levels.

Boston's Faneuil Hall2.  BOSTON Highest score: 100 (Social Life) Lowest score: 14.2 (Housing)

Boston’s historic sites and renowned universities earned it the top score in social life. An extensive public transportation system, stable economy and low unemployment rate also contributed to its place at No. 2 on the list.

Housing, however, could be a problem. The city scored just 14.2 out of 100 in the housing category. Maybe for seniors, Boston is a better place to visit than to live.

Minneapolis1.  MINNEAPOLIS-ST. PAUL Highest score: 97.9 (Environment) Lowest score: 53 (Housing)

The Twin Cities scored high in environment; with 22 lakes, the area boasts more shoreline than California, Florida and Hawaii combined, according to the Minneapolis Convention & Visitors Association. Although the area was not the top scorer in health care (that honor went to Indianapolis), the Twin Cities boast a progressive medical insurance program and are near the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

That, combined with a high score in social life, put Minneapolis-St. Paul at the top of the list.

Read the detailed breakdown for each of the 50 cities in the survey.

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Top 10 lists from AdvisorOne:

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