Conn. retirees face high cost of living

As members of the baby boomer generation retire, those who live in Connecticut might consider moving elsewhere.

A 2012 report by the Wall Street Journal and TopRetirements.com called Connecticut the worst state for retirees after analyzing each state’s fiscal health, property taxes, income taxes, cost of living and climate. In March, U.S. News & World Report, citing high home rental costs and mortgage burdens for seniors, named Bridgeport, the state’s most populous city, one of the 10 worst places to retire in America.

John Brady, the founder and owner of TopRetirements.com, spent his career living in Madison, Conn. He retired to Key West, Fla., in part, he said, to escape the heavy tax burden he faced in Connecticut. The state has high income and property taxes and is one of just 14 states to tax social security benefits. Brady said the high taxes could become “oppressive” for retired people living on a fixed income.

“If you have lots and lots of money and taxes don’t matter to you, come to Connecticut,” Brady said. “It’s a great place to live.”

Despite the burden they can be for retirees, high taxes allow Connecticut to offer a strong social safety net and numerous services for seniors, said Bette Marafino, president of the Connecticut Alliance for Retired Americans, an organization that advocates for senior citizens and lobbies at the state level. Marafino said she feels the level of taxation is reasonable.

A bigger issue, Marafino said, is the lack of livable communities for seniors in the state, forcing them to move into nursing homes. A March report by the Connecticut Department of Social Services found a nursing home occupancy rate of about 90 percent, the 10th-highest in the nation.

“Studies show people live longer, are happier and are healthier when they’re in their own home or they live in an environment where they can be with people,” Marafino said.

In recent years, Connecticut has made strides to reduce a reliance on nursing homes that left it with the nation’s highest nursing home occupancy rate in 2003. A recent ranking by the American Association of Retired People of each state’s “long-term care toolkit” — support systems for aging people and their caregivers — placed Connecticut 11th in the nation. Claudio Gualtieri, associate state director for advocacy for the Connecticut AARP, said this ranking indicates the state offers broad and high-quality options for elder care, legal supports for caregivers and support for elderly people who choose to age in their own communities.

Gualtieri said his organization has recently begun focusing on the importance of livable communities — areas of mixed-use development that allow people, especially senior citizens, to take care of their needs without traveling long distances in a car. New Haven, he said, has been a leader in this area.

“You have this great coming together of entertainment, grocery stores, pharmacies, housing, parks,” Gualtieri said. “We’re trying to make sure that those practices get shared in other towns.”

But New Haven’s retired people face their own challenges. Patricia Wallace, New Haven’s director of elderly services, said senior citizens in the Elm City are particularly likely to be food insecure, meaning they sometimes struggle to obtain all the food they need for themselves and their families. The Elm City also has seen a recent increase in the elderly homeless population — an issue Wallace said the city has been working to address by coordinating the work of the elderly services department with that of case managers who handle homelessness.

In Connecticut, 14.8 percent of the population is over the age of 65, compared to 13.7 percent of the national population.

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