New Study: This Is the No. 1 Place to Retire in the U.S.
Can you guess which city earned the top spot for retirees? Spoiler alert: It's not in Florida!
Whether you are retiring early, in the midst of saving for retirement or haven’t quite started yet, you’re probably fantasizing about that day when work will be a distant memory and every day feels like a vacation. Of course, a big part of that involves where you’ll live in your post-career life—which can be anywhere in the world! It really depends on what you want to get out of retirement life. Some people want to golf year-round, while others want to live close to family. You also need to consider cultural opportunities, the cost of living, access to health care and your overall happiness.
“As people live longer, quality of life often is also determined by the availability of high-quality long-term services and supports (LTSS), like community services, home health aides or good facilities,” says M.T. Connolly, a leading national expert on elder justice and the author of The Measure of Our Age. “Because family caregivers provide the bulk of elder care, another important factor is whether there’s decent support for such ‘informal’ caregivers.”
So, if you’re hoping to stay in the United States, what are the best states for retirement? A new study from U.S. News & World Report may have the answer. It evaluated the 150 most populated metropolitan areas in the country, including Puerto Rico, to find the “best” place in the country to retire in 2023. Read on to find out which city earned the top spot.
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What were the criteria in the study?
U.S. News & World Report took into account both public data and survey results from 3,100 people across the country, ages 45 and older. Survey respondents were asked what was most important to them when it came to a retirement destination, based on a list of options, and U.S. News then assigned “weights” to the following indexes when coming up with scores for each city.
- Happiness Index: 22%
- Housing Affordability Index: 24%
- Health Care Quality Index: 16%
- Retiree Taxes Index: 16%
- Desirability Index: 13%
- Job Market Index: 9%
What is the Happiness Index? It may sound a little nebulous, but it’s made up of crime rates, the air quality index (AQI) and well-being, which is based on Sharecare’s 2022 Community Well-Being Index scores.
So, what is the best place to retire in the United States?
According to U.S. News & World Report, the winner is … Lancaster, Pennsylvania! Lancaster has a unique combination of a vibrant downtown scene, abundant farmland and manicured suburban neighborhoods, and you’re never far from a change of scenery. But that’s just part of the story. Here’s what else makes Lancaster more than just an East Coast vacation destination and, instead, a town that’s perfect for your later years.
The study’s top five towns all earned an overall score of 7.2 out of 10, but Lancaster ranked slightly higher in health care, which is an important factor for retirees. Penn Medicine—the University of Pennsylvania’s hospital and medical care network—has three facilities in Lancaster County, including one acute-care hospital and three specialty hospitals. “Lancaster has great health care with state-of-the-art hospital facilities,” says realtor Anne Lusk, a Lancaster County native who is now raising kids in her hometown. “Lancaster’s orthopedic and heart programs rank in the top 50, and we have an incredible cancer center.”
Even if you’ve done everything right when it comes to your retirement funds and have a healthy nest egg, you still want to stretch your money as far as possible. Of course, that’s another big selling point here. While food and other living expenses are on par with the national average, home prices are comfortably below the national median. In 2022, the national average price for a house was $383,883, but in Lancaster, it was nearly a full $100,000 less, at $290,354. And believe it or not, while people do commute in the area, traffic generally isn’t an issue. (Yes, you read that right.)
As they say, real estate is all about location, location, location! You can hop on an Amtrak train to get to New York City and Philadelphia easily, or if you’re driving, it’s just about 2.5 hours and 1.5 hours, respectively. It’s also just a little over two hours to Washington, D.C. But you don’t need to leave town to get an amazing city feel—even if it is on a smaller scale. Franklin & Marshall College is right in town, which infuses Lancaster with the creativity and innovation unique to college towns, lending a sense of vibrancy to people of all ages.
Fun things to do
Lancaster is a walkable city with numerous cultural events, excellent theaters and a monthly First Friday art walk, all of which lead to more social interaction than in places where people drive from one strip mall to another. “With isolation and loneliness at epidemic levels, social interaction is another vital indicator of well-being for older Americans,” Connolly says.
This history-packed town and the surrounding area is also loaded with antiques, arts and crafts, and great little shops. And here’s a fun fact: Lancaster Central Market, located downtown, has the distinction of being the country’s oldest continually operated farmers market, serving as a food hub since 1730. “And if you enjoy ice cream, there is nothing better than all the homemade ice cream shops,” Lusk adds, in case you weren’t already sold on Lancaster.
What other towns round out the top 5?
Art Wager/Getty Images
Florida is usually the first state people think of for retirement, but is it actually on this list? Yep! But it debuts in third place. Here’s an overview of the top five cities for retirees:
- Lancaster, Pennsylvania
- Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
- Pensacola, Florida
- Tampa, Florida
- York, Pennsylvania
Seeing a trend? Here’s why: The three Pennsylvania cities on the list have below-average cost of living and above-average health care, while also offering rich history, flourishing arts, access to nature and proximity to New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. As for Pensacola and Tampa, they offer a laid-back beach lifestyle (and great beaches the kids and grandkids will want to visit!), with the added bonus of having the culinary and cultural amenities of a metropolitan area.
If you look at the top 10 places to retire, according to U.S. News & World Report, 9 of the 10 are in Pennsylvania or Florida. The one outlier? Ann Arbor, Michigan, which comes in at No. 8.
About the experts
- M.T. Connolly is a leading national expert on elder justice, a lawyer and the author of The Measure of Our Age. She conceived of and structured the Elder Justice Act, the first comprehensive federal elder abuse law, and she was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 2011.
- Anne Lusk is a realtor with Lusk & Associates Sotheby’s International Realty, and a Lancaster County native who is now raising kids in her hometown.
- U.S. News & World Report: “Best Places to Retire in the U.S. in 2022–2023”