Maryland is expensive, has high taxes, crime and bad weather but it can still be a great place to retire, state officials say. Besides, they point out, Florida isn’t perfect either.
A recent MoneyRates.com study ranked Maryland as the fifth worst place in the nation to retire due to data the website analyzed on cost of living, unemployment, climate, crime rates and life expectancy.
South Carolina, Alaska, Michigan and Nevada were the only states deemed worse than Maryland, according to the study.
However, seniors are among the fastest growing age group in the state, said Ilene Rosenthal, deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Aging.
The Maryland Department of Planning projects the number of people age 60 and above will grow 36 percent between 2010 and 2020 in Maryland, whereas the projected percentage gain for the entire population is just under 9 percent.
Bob Passerelli, 59, is among those who plan to retire in Maryland, attracted both by the proximity to his family and the opportunities to nurture his photography hobby in settings like the Eastern Shore.
“It’s a nice state,” said Passerelli, of Catonsville. “There are a lot of things to see and do, and an opportunity to practice my hobby, which is photography.”
In Montgomery County, seniors are the fastest-growing age group, according to the county’s Division of Aging and Disability Services.
The number of seniors in Montgomery County, the state’s largest, increased 130 percent from 1980 to 2010, the agency said. Their number is expected to increase an additional 65 percent from 2000 to 2020.
The number of seniors choosing to reside in other parts of the state has increased as well.
Baltimore County’s rate of senior citizens has remained steady at about 14 percent between 2000 and 2009, when census estimates show about 112,535 living in the county.
In Howard County, the percentage of seniors has increased from 7.5 percent in 2000 to 9.3 percent in 2005-2009, according to the most recent numbers from the U.S. census. An average of 25,524 people over the age of 65 lived in Howard County between 2005 and 2009, according to census data.
In Carroll County, 12 percent of the population–or 20,209–is 65 and older, an increase from 10.8 percent in 2000.
Officials acknowledged that cost of living may dissuade some people from coming to the state.
Maryland has the eighth highest cost of living nationally, according to a survey for the fourth quarter of 2010 by the Missouri Department of Economic Development that looked at the cost of groceries, utilities, housing and other indicators.
“Financial factors obviously have a role,” said Rosenthal. Retirees consider property taxes and general cost of living, she said.
Bill Jones, who lives and works in Ocean View, DE, but whose family is from Maryland, said he would never retire in the Free State because taxes are so much lower in Delaware.
“We have a 3,000-square-foot house on Cape Cod on a third of an acre, and our property tax is $630 a year,” he said. “And, they cut that tax in half when you turn 65 … In Maryland, you can expect property taxes for a similar property on the Eastern Shore to be three times what we pay.”
Nationally, Maryland has the 12th highest state and local tax burden, which the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan organization that tracks taxes, estimates is 10 percent of a person’s income.
“But only a small subsection of older people have the resources and desire to move,” Charles A. Smith, chief of planning and evaluation for the Montgomery County’s division on aging, said.
Additionally, people are afraid of crime, but much more than they should be, Smith noted.
“The percentage of older adults who are victims of crime is infinitesimal,” he said.
Maryland is the 9th most violent state in the country, according to the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention, which calculated crime rates per 1,000 people. A bulk of Maryland’s crime is concentrated in the urban areas of Baltimore City and Prince George’s County, state crime data shows.
The yearly crime report released by the Maryland State Police does not classify the number of crimes that are committed against senior citizens.
Despite higher taxes and some crime, “there are people who choose Maryland because it offers everything from mountains to beaches and access to better health care,” said Rosenthal.
State tourism officials cite the array of mountainous areas in the western part of the state and the beach destinations on the Eastern Shore--all within about a three-hour drive from Baltimore and Washington, D.C. The capital region also offers a close proximity to D.C.’s museums and attractions, tourism officials say.
Maryland is also home to state-of-the-art medical facilities, such as Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.
Rosenthal said some elders may be drawn to places like Florida because of the weather, and it has no income taxes.
However, “Florida has lost some of its glimmer,” said Tom Wetzel, president of Retirement Living Information Center, Inc., a Connecticut-based online resource for people planning retirement.
In the past, retirees sought warmer climates, but he said that now “people are less inclined to be in a hot climate all the time. People are liking the four seasons.”
As the popularity of states have changed, Arizona, Texas, the Carolinas and Mid-Atlantic states like Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania are becoming more popular, Wetzel said.
“Maryland has some wonderful resources and it’s really all about quality of life,” Rosenthal said. She said Maryland officials focus on the idea of “livable communities” that offer services, access to health care, grocery stores, walkability, etc.
“They want to stay active and are looking for places that allow them to contribute and remain engaged,” she said.
Also, older Marylanders and retirees prefer not to move, said Tiffany Lundquist, spokeswoman for AARP Maryland. “They’re redefining retirement.”
That means they are looking to be active in second careers, opportunities to volunteer and more, she said.
Lundquist noted that “fewer than 5 percent of people 55 and over move in any year.”
“We do know that the most important considerations when people retire is they want to be near friends and family,” she said. “They want to stay in the communities where they put down roots, and if Maryland is where they built their life, then Maryland is a terrific place for them to retire.”