Should You Retire To South Dakota?

Should You Retire To South Dakota? recently announced the ten best states for retirement.  The list, which includes such rugged spots as Colorado, Utah, North Dakota and Wyoming, was topped by, of all places, South Dakota.  My question: is South Dakota the retirement paradise to which we should all aspire?

Before any South Dakotans that happen to be reading this make plans to hang me in effigy, I want to point out that this posting is not at all about South Dakota.  I’ve personally never visited there, and for all I know it’s a wonderful place to live.  It’s really about publications & websites that inform us about places or things that we ought to or ought not to like.  It’s just one more example of how the media takes generalizations and promotes them as personalized advice.

First, how did Bankrate come up with their recommendations?  The criteria included factors such as cost of living, crime rate, tax burden, weather, and health care quality.  So far so good.  I’m sure we’d all like to retire to a place that ranks highly for all those things.  But how does one prioritize them?  I might be extremely sensitive to frigid, snowy winters, while your hot button might be the cost of living.  I find it virtually impossible to reach a conclusion about which location is better without being able to apply very personal choices to the weighting of each of these factors.

A second problem occurs when you realize that we are talking about entire states.  I imagine that Bankrate averaged data from many locations in each state to come up with a rating for each factor.  How valid is that?  How identical is the weather, crime rate, etc. in your neighborhood as compared to every other neighborhood in the rest your state?  Is the crime rate and quality of health care in downtown Rapid City, South Dakota, identical to that of downtown Webster in the northeast corner of the state?  I’ll bet not.

The third issue is probably the most important.  What do you want to do in your retirement, and with whom do you want to do it?  Do you like hanging out with friends at the local Starbucks?  If so, are there any friends in South Dakota you could call?  Or any Starbucks for that matter?  If you’re a baseball fan, does the state have any good teams, or are you relegated to watching on TV?  Bankrate appears to have tried to address some of these questions by including “feelings of well-being” as a basis for their ratings.  This data comes from a Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which, according to their website, is a daily survey of 500 Americans focused on five elements of well-being, namely:

  • Liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals
  • Having supportive relationships and love in your life
  • Managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security
  • Liking where you live, feeling safe and having pride in your community
  • Having good health and enough energy to get things done daily

I infer that South Dakotans answered these questions more positively than residents of other states.  Presumably if you’re retired and living in South Dakota, you’re there because you want to be.  But what you enjoy may be quite different than what others enjoy.  I wouldn’t think, for example, that South Dakota would be top of mind for a retired surfer from Santa Cruz.

Rather than coming up with specific recommendations from generalized data, the media would be providing more value by making the raw data available to the public so that we can make our own decisions.  How does the crime rate in South Dakota (or Rapid City, to be a bit more specific) compare to other cities & counties across the country?  Or the weather?  Or the number and types of senior centers?  Let us apply our own personal priorities to make the hugely impactful decision about where to live during retirement.

By the way, the five states Bankrate rated the worst for retirement were New York, West Virginia, Alaska, Arkansas and Hawaii.  Maybe they surveyed the wrong people there? 🙂

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