| First Quarter 2013 | story by DAISY WAKEFIELD | photos by STEVEN HERTZOG |
Every 8 seconds for the past two years, a person from the Baby Boomer generation has turned 65. This continues until the year 2030, when the 79 million Boomers will all cross the threshold of retirement age. They will comprise 1 in 5 Americans, an unprecedented number of retirees in US history.
The Boomers are a new breed of retirees, not looking to fade away in a corner of Florida. They want to remain connected in multi-generational relationships, engaging with both peers and younger people, and perhaps active in their grandchildren’s upbringing. They are health-conscious, looking to live near green spaces and in walkable communities, and wanting to remain physically active in daily life. They might continue to work to some degree, in part-time or consulting-based employment, or even start an encore career out of a hobby or entrepreneurial venture. They want to be active in their communities, sharing their wisdom, experiences, and time in volunteerism, board membership, or civic engagement. In other words, Boomers have more giddy-up than any preceding generation of retirees. They don’t want to be put out to pasture, spending their remaining years in a gradual decline. They intend to continue to live a vibrant life, with adjustments as necessary.
Lawrence is retiree-friendly.
In an extensive study done by the Milken Institute on Best Cities for Successful Aging, 259 small metros were ranked in order of being retiree-friendly cities. Several indicators factored into the rankings: General, Healthcare, Wellness, Financial, Living Arrangement, Employment, Transportation, and Community. For ages 65-79, Lawrence ranks 33 among the 259. For ages 80+, Lawrence ranks 123. Overall, Lawrence ranks 57. This differentiation of early retirement – ages 65 to 79, and later retirement – ages 80+, is necessary as people are living longer and more active lives. In early retirement, people generally continue to do as they have done before – drive, live independently, walk without limitation. Age 80 is a new frontier as retirees begin to deal with impairments and illnesses and reduced mobility. “Most of these limits don’t stop people from being active given ‘options’ to sustain access to what is needed, enjoyed or wanted,” says Jim Courtney, Director of Mr. Goodcents Foundation For Senior Independence. “Plus, the hypothesis is that active and engaged people delay (maybe for a lifetime) significant life limitations given mobility, transportation and housing options that remove barriers to access and life. Being an ‘attractive destination place’ to live and age requires communities to look at what people will need over a 20 to 30 year lifespan.”
Why do we want to be retiree-friendly?
The sheer number of Boomers, close to 80 million, offers astounding opportunities for businesses and cities looking to woo this burgeoning sector of American population. The Boomers hold 50-70% of US wealth, account for 50% of consumer demand, and are set to gain over $11 trillion in inheritances. Their astounding size wields massive fiscal power. When a retiree couple moves to Lawrence, they contribute to the economy in direct ways by depositing their wealth in area banks, spending their money locally, and contributing philanthropically. And they bring in jobs. For every retiree couple that moves intotown, 1.2 jobs are created. The City of Lawrence has leapt to the task of determining what would attract retirees here. A 12-member Retiree Attraction and Retention Task Force was appointed in 2011 to explore the germane issues and presented their recommendations in mid-2012. Work is continuing from that task force in the form of the board of advisors at Douglas County Senior Services.
Lawrence looks good from this angle.
Where Lawrence excels among small metros is in health care, a top consideration for retirees in deciding on a retirement destination. Lawrence ranks number one in the Milken Institute’s study for small metros with hospitals accredited by the Joint Commission. With acclaimed cardiology and oncology services, Lawrence Memorial Hospital has become an anchor for attracting seniors to Lawrence. Proximity to KU Medical Center and other Kansas Citybased resources are an added boost for retirees looking to be near premier health care facilities. The University of Kansas is another major attraction with sports, arts, cultural, and continuing education amenities. Retirees looking for continuing educational opportunities can take classes in Lawrence at KU’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, which offers classes specifically designed for people over 50. The Douglas County Senior Services provides support for seniors, with classes, meals, and social services. Seniors can participate in exercise, art, music, and games of pool at the center, as well as find peer support. Douglas County Senior Services also offers rides for a small fee to seniors who are no longer able to drive. In community engagement, Lawrence seniors tend to be very actively involved in civic and organizational volunteerism.
‘We have 800 volunteers at LMH, and half of those are in the senior age group,” Kathy Clausing-Willis, Vice President of Lawrence Memorial Hospital and Retiree Task Force member, says. “People who work as volunteers are no longer content to work in a small room folding newsletters. The volunteers here talk with physicians, comfort patients, do real work.”
Lawrence also faces challenges.
Housing has risen to the top as Lawrence’s most challenging factor in attracting and keeping seniors. A polarization currently exists, with high-end and lower-income housing available, but a gap in the middle. Not enough houses are being built, or can be easily retrofitted, to accommodate the needs of aging in place, rather than making several moves from independent living to end-of-life care. “Housing is the most significant challenge that we face for attracting retirees to Lawrence,” says Hugh Carter, City Commissioner and Task Force Co-Chair. “Frankly, I’m surprised to see that builders haven’t built more things that would attract retirees.” To that end, Carter is working with KU’s New Cities Initiative and Dennis Domer, former associate dean of the KU School of Architecture and Urban Planning, to plan a living development called The Campus VillAGE. The VillAGE would be an intergenerational housing development for everyone from young families to older retirees, built intentionally to cultivate community between generations and aging in place. Transportation is another challenge. Lawrence has a handful of organizations that offer public transport or specific rides to seniors, but the overall effect has overlaps and gaps. The Lawrence Douglas County Metropolitan Planning Organization, along with KU Transportation Center and KU Transportation Research Institute, are working to consolidate and synchronize transport in Lawrence and to make it friendly to all manner of transport, including use of wheeled devices such as motorized wheelchairs or Segways.
Another challenging area is Lawrence’s comparably high tax rate. According to Tax Foundation, Kansas ranked 22nd highest in state and local tax burden in 2010, with a combined 9.7% tax rate. Lawrence’s sales tax rate is the highest of all Big 12 cities. And pensions, including out-of-state pensions, are taxable in Kansas. Social Security income is exempt from state income tax when the federal adjusted gross income is $75k or less. This is likely the hardest part to mitigate for retirees.
The first action steps of the task force’s report have already been implemented, the first being to create a single point of access for all needed resources for seniors and those who care for them. The Douglas County Senior Services is expanding its director position to encompass that need, and the organization will act as a portal for seniors into all needed resources. The second action step is to create an advisory board to carry out the recommendations of the task force, which is also being enfolded into the board of the Douglas County Senior Services. “We have an agreement with the city and the county to create a new, larger advisory board that they appoint,” says Mike Wildgen, Interim Executive Director of the Douglas County Senior Services. “This position [of Executive Director] has the capacity to work on a number of the work items that came out of the Task Force’s report. We already have a situation set up to do this — why replicate it?”
Whether retirees are attracted to Lawrence as a new city to live, or whether just the existing boomers-turning-retirees stay in Lawrence, they are coming. “With the Boomers,” says Carter, “They’re going to demand options. Let’s get in front of this, instead of just reacting.” ■