Surprisingly Great Places to Retire in the Midwest

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America’s Heartland has not been getting a lot of love lately. Among the 12 states that the U.S. Census Bureau groups together as the Midwest region, five (Illinois, Kansas, Ohio, Iowa and Michigan) make up half of the top 10 states people moved out of in 2018, according to United Van Lines’ annual national movers study.

Most report leaving the area due to a job change, but many credit retirement for their relocation, too. In fact, only 2% of the pre-retirees plan on moving to the Midwest, according to a survey by Merrill Lynch and Age Wave, a research firm focused on the aging population.

But we still think the Midwest has plenty to offer retirees. Many states in the region offer affordability, beautiful scenery, an abundance of activities and quality health care. Indeed, two midwestern states rank among the top four best states for retirement in 2018.

If you’re ready to go against the grain and head to the Midwest for your own retirement, we suggest you consider the following spots. We highlighted one great retirement destination in each state, taking into account living costs, safety, median incomes and poverty rates for retirement-age residents, as well as residents’ sense of well-being and the availability of recreational and health care facilities.

Here are our retirement picks in the midwestern states. Some (if not all) are sure to surprise you.

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Peoria, Ill.

  • City population: 115,424
  • Share of population 65+: 14.3%
  • Cost of living for retirees: 5.9% below the national average
  • Average income for population 65+: $53,116
  • Community score: 58.6
  • State’s tax rating for retirees: Mixed

A big draw for this relatively small city is its affordability. Housing costs for retirees are particularly low, 20.8% below the national average. Indeed, the median home value is a rock-bottom $89,000, compared with the $229,000 median for the U.S. And a private room in a nursing home costs just $6,798 a month; the median across the U.S. is $8,365 a month.

And yet, plenty of money has been pumping through the city, in a bid to further to develop the downtown area. The Downtown Development Corporation of Peoria recently assisted a number of projects, including the issuance of 714 construction permits in downtown with an estimated value of $74 million.

Already the Riverfront area offers a vibrant setting with a number of eateries, shops and attractions, including the Peoria Riverfront Museum complete with its Giant Screen Theater and Dome Planetarium.

The museum hosts a senior program with a free bi-monthly morning lecture series and free admission to the museum every second Wednesday of the month to guests age 60 and up. Also, the Peoria Park District offers 64 park sites with miles of hiking trails, golf courses, nature center and more.

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Fort Wayne, Ind.

  • City population: 262,450
  • Share of population 65+: 13.4%
  • Cost of living for retirees: 11.5% below the national average
  • Average income for population 65+: $47,848
  • Community score: 59.7
  • State’s tax rating for retirees: Least Tax-Friendly

The Fort Wayne metro area’s affordability will not cost you in amenities. Despite being home to a nice collection of quiet neighborhoods, it also houses a thriving arts scene and hosts a number of festivals and events throughout the year, including the family-friendly Three Rivers Festival in the summers.

Indeed, the three local rivers—the St. Marys, the St. Joseph and the Maumee—are a main feature of the area, providing ample opportunities for canoeing, kayaking and cruising. More outdoor attractions: Fort Wayne is more than 80 parks and 100 miles of hiking and biking trails.

Fort Wayne is by no means a metropolis, but if you ever feel the need for a small-town escape head two hours south to Richmond, the cheapest small town in America. Its claim to fame (other than being budget-friendly): Some of the earliest jazz records were recorded in Richmond by such greats as Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong.

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Des Moines, Iowa

  • City population: 214,778
  • Share of population 65+: 11.7%
  • Cost of living for retirees: 9.4% below the national average
  • Average income for population 65+: $48,740
  • Community score: 65.7
  • State’s tax rating for retirees: Not Tax-Friendly

For retirees looking to live in a big city on a small budget, Des Moines is a good choice. Affordability is just one reason the Milken Institute ranked the state capital fifth out of 100 large U.S. metro areas for successful aging. Des Moines also boasts a strong economy and plenty of health care facilities specializing in aging-related services.

Retirees won’t lack for things to do, either. There are numerous museums and arts venues, including an outdoor sculpture park, a zoo and botanical gardens. There’s even a casino and racetrack in nearby Altoona that hosts annual camel, ostrich and zebra races (sorry, no wagering on these exhibition races allowed).

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Manhattan, Kan.

  • City population: 55,427
  • Share of population 65+: 8.2%
  • Cost of living for retirees: 8.4% below the national average
  • Average income for population 65+: n/a
  • Community score: n/a
  • State’s tax rating for retirees: Least Tax-Friendly

The Little Apple may not have all the bright lights and major metropolitan allure of New York City, but it has plenty to recommend itself, as well as significantly lower costs. (The cost of living for retirees in New York’s Manhattan is 123.5% above the national average with housing a ridiculous 406.2% above average).

Housing costs for retirees in this Manhattan are particularly affordable at 17.2% below the national average. And yet, the average income for all households with earnings is a comfortable $64,135 a year.

Home to Kansas State University, Manhattan affords residents attractive college-town amenities, including the privilege of calling the school’s top-notch athletics program your home team.

One particularly senior-friendly offering: The university, in collaboration with the local UFM Community Learning Center and the University of Kansas Osher Institute, offers courses year-round for $50 each, along with special events, aimed at encouraging lifelong learning, especially for locals age 50 and older. The city is also developing an expanded trail system—beyond the existing 40 miles of trails throughout the city—for walking and biking throughout the city.

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Ann Arbor, Mich.

  • City population: 119,303
  • Share of population 65+: 11.3%
  • Cost of living for retirees: n/a
  • Average income for population 65+: $82,971
  • Community score: 66.3
  • State’s tax rating for retirees: Not Tax-Friendly

Another college town well suited to retirees, Ann Arbor is home to the University of Michigan with all its educational programs (including the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute), sporting events and cultural affairs. The university also runs the Geriatrics Center & Institute of Gerontology, which focuses on health care issues that come with aging. Along with its research facilities, medical facilities and staff, the Center offers programs and classes to help older adults maximize their good health and independence.

In fact, Ann Arbor’s health care facilities are top-notch, helping to earn it a sixth-place ranking among small metro areas for successful aging, according to the Milken Institute. The area’s public transportation options are another noted winning attribute for older residents. A downside, however, is affordability. Overall living costs are 27.1% above the national average, according to Sperling’s BestPlaces, and the median home value is $378,600, versus just $153,000 for the rest of the state, according to Zillow.

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