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Report says Mississippi, Louisiana among worst states for retirement

LAUREN WOOD | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Sue Ann Wilt puts price tags on magnets while working her part-time job at Magnolia Hall Thursday morning. Wilt, who moved from Michigan 10 years ago with her husband to retire in Natchez, says she stays busy working at Magnolia Hall and volunteering at the House on Ellicott Hill. Area retirees sing the praises of retiring to Mississippi, despite a recent national report ranking the state as unfriendly to retirees.

NATCHEZ — Retiring to the South may not be best way to spend the later years of your life. But that’s only one opinion.

The financial website Bankrate.com recently listed Mississippi and Louisiana among the worst 10 states in which to retire. The other states included South Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, New Mexico, Texas, Tennessee and Kentucky.

But, Clark Feiser, director for the Natchez Retiree Partnership, said every coin has two sides.

“First of all, I feel they are crucifying the South. Nine of the 10 states are from the South,” said Feiser, who along with his wife Phyllis, retired to Natchez from Pennsylvania seven years ago.

The Bankrate.com report based its conclusions on the crime rate from the 2010 FBI report, average life expectancy figures from the Kaiser Family Foundation and the percentage of retirees 65 and older living below the poverty line that comes from a survey conducted by the Census Bureau.

According to the Bankrate website, Mississippi had an estimated 3,254 property and violent crimes reported per every 100,000 residents. Louisiana was slightly higher at 4,196 per 100,000.

Residents of Louisiana are living an average of 75.4 years with 11.5 percent living at the poverty level. More retired Mississippians are below poverty at 11.9 percent and life expectancy is 74.8 years.

The U.S. Census Bureau reports the national poverty line is $12,968 for a two-person household with residents’ age 65 and older and $10,289 for a single person in 2009.

The bureau reports Adams County having 30.4 percent of all persons living below the poverty level and Concordia Parish has 30.8 percent.

But, according to Feiser, those stats don’t tell the whole story and potential retirees look at other factors when it comes finding a place to settle down.

“When people retire to Mississippi, they are concerned about how far their retirement money will take them,” Feiser said. “Because of the low taxes, low cost of housing, and no state taxes on retirement income, we are considered one of the best states to retire to.”

Feiser pointed to a 2011 report by Kiplinger — a financial site similar to Bankrate.com — in which Mississippi was No. 2 and Louisiana was the No. 10 state to retire to based on how “tax-friendly” they are to retirees. Wyoming was No. 1.

“I think the Bankrate site is talking about people retiring within the state, not coming from outside the state,” Feiser said. “Yes, we have much poverty, but not (among) the people that move here from other states.

“People are certainly interested in crime, but if you look at (Mississippi and Louisiana), Jackson and New Orleans are going to mess with the crime statistics.”

Since 1996, Feiser said the Natchez Retiree Partnership has recruited 247 households to Natchez.

“The retirees that we recruit are certainly not at the poverty level,” he said. “We all know there is much poverty in the South and that follows to the in-state retirees.”

The Natchez Retiree Partnership promotes the area through magazines and conventions aimed toward potential retirees. The retiree partnership and other retirement city groups from around Mississippi go to larger cities such as Chicago to promote the highlights of retiring to Mississippi.

“We’re not just promoting Natchez, but Mississippi as a whole,” Feiser said. “Mississippi has a lot to offer retirees. We have a low cost of living. There are no taxes on retirement, which is important to people looking to retire; the property taxes are lower. You even get a break on them once you turn 65.”

Feiser explained retirees bring many positive factors to a community such as Natchez and the partnership does what it can to help promote the area and recruit households to the area.

“The Natchez Retiree Partnership is a form of economic development. Retirees put money in the economy by buying houses and paying taxes.”

Feiser noted the Natchez Retiree Partnership had seen a considerable jump in the number of families interested in relocating to Natchez.

“We had 97 leads in 2011,” he said. “I’ve had over 200 already this year.”

Sue Ann Wilt and her husband Carl retired to Natchez from Lansing, Mich., in 2002, but their plan to move to Natchez began long before then.

Wilt said they began attending Pilgrimage in 1982 and made it a yearly event.

“We just fell in love with the people and the area,” Wilt said.

Wilt now spends her time working part time at Magnolia Hall giving tours and being an active member in the Natchez Garden Club.

Natchez Inc. Executive Director Chandler Russ said he was pleased with the success of the Natchez Retiree Partnership.

“The program is efficiently run,” he said. “We are getting our money’s worth. It’s part of our economic development landscape.

“Retirees bring in their disposable income, wealth and they add to the market share. It’s a growing area in our community. As the economy continues to pickup, I think we’ll see more come in.”

For more information on the Natchez Retiree Partnership, contact Feiser at 601-304-0763 or e-mail retirenatchez@bellsouth.net.