Look out Bethel. The Woodstock generation plans to migrate back in droves to small towns and rural areas as it ages.
If baby boomers follow migration patterns similar to those of their predecessors, the rural population age 55-75 will increase by 30% between 2010 and 2020, according to a report just published by U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service. Viewed another way: The number of boomers between the ages of 55 and 75 living in rural areas will increase from 8.6 to 14.2 million between 2000 and 2020, according to John Cromartie and Peter Nelson, co-authors of the report, “Baby Boom Migration and Its Impact on Rural America.”
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But where and why will they move?
In the past, older Americans mostly migrated to second-home destinations, places where boomers have vacationed or where they have visited family and friends. These destinations, say the authors, offer boomers a high quality of life and a slower pace of life.
And that’s likely to continue if not accelerate in the future. “Baby boomers are increasingly drawn to areas with the right combination of scenic amenities (varied topography, relatively large lake or coastal areas, warm and sunny winters, and temperate summers), recreational or cultural opportunities, and reasonable housing costs,” the report said.
In the 1990s, boomers moved to the “intermountain West, the southern Appalachians, the Upper Great Lakes, and other scenic locations,” according to the report. But growth in those places slowed as home prices rose. Now, however, thanks to the recession and the fall in home prices, boomers will likely move back to those and, more likely, other “isolated” environs. Boomers (though it seems hard to believe given the boomers I know) won’t be moving for work reasons, the report said.
So what are the top areas and counties to either move to or avoid?
According to the report, the retirement-aged population will grow 32.1% in the Northeast, 31.8% in the West, 26.1% in the South, and 21.9% in the Midwest. As for which individual counties will experience the greatest growth, Cromartie said in an email that “projections of this nature always contain a degree of uncertainty. “ That said, he provided a list of 15 representative nonmetropolitan counties that are ranked in the top 50 in the projections for the 2010-2020 time period. Listed alphabetically, they are:
- Dare County, N.C.
- Forest County, Pa.
- Graham County, N.C.
- Highland County, Va.
- Hinsdale County, Colo.
- Jackson County, Colo.
- Jackson County, N.C.
- Keweenaw County, Mich.
- Lake County, Mich.
- Mineral County, Colo.
- Mono County, Calif.
- Monroe County, Fla.
- Pocahontas County, W. Va.
- Tillamook County, Ore.
- Valley County, Idaho
All of these counties were classified as “recreation” counties by the Economic Research Service (ERS), based on 2000 data, Cromartie said in his email. He also noted the following: Dare, Forest, Graham, Lake, Mineral, and Valley were also marked as major retirement destinations in 2000. In general, counties in California, Colorado, and Florida scored very high on the ERS Natural Amenities Index. (Editor’s note: That’s the index the researchers used to figure out to which counties boomers will move.) Forest, Hinsdale, Lake, and Valley had very high percentages of second-home residences in 2000. Graham, Highland, Keweenaw, Lake, and Pocahontas showed below-average median home values in 2000. All of these variables were predictive of migration among 55-75 year olds in the 1990s. The projections for boomers in the next decade are based on the assumption that they follow, within specified ranges, these age-specific migration patterns.
Finally, Cromartie and Nelson wrote — perhaps with a small sense of irony — that there will be “major social and economic implications” for the places to which boomers migrate. And how. There could be strains on the health-care systems, transportation, housing, the retail infrastructure, and even – shhhh…this one’s a secret – the illicit drug business. Yes, another government report released this month shows growing use of illicit drugs among – surprise – aging boomers. About 5% of boomers are users of illicit drugs according to that report, but that’s a blog for another day.
So here’s the deal. Now that you know where the boomers will move when they age, you can do one of two things - join ‘em or not.