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America's elderly take a shine to a wider variety of retirement spots

The elderly - as their numbers steadily grow - are less likely to live in the kind of towns they used to be located in. In decades past, according to Rand demographer Kevin F. McCarthy, the elderly were mostly concentrated in older cities like Chicago, Baltimore, or Boston. It wasn't that old people moved to these cities, explains Dr. McCarthy, so much as that they stayed, while working-age people trickled out toward Sunbelt jobs.

When the elderly moved, they went to Florida, or to sparsely settled communities in the Southwest.

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In a report released last week by the Rand Corporation, the Santa Monica, Calif., think tank, Dr. McCarthy found the elderly have shifted their destinations since 1970.

Many of the elderly now are wealthier, and those that are relatively well-to-do are pulling up their roots and moving more.

While Florida, especially the Tampa area, is still a big draw for retired people, many are now moving to regions like northern New England and the upper Great Lakes area.

They have favored small cities and well-populated rural areas to big cities and the isolated country.

Among cities, the elderly population is growing fastest in smaller ones such as Salem, Ore.; Las Cruces, N.M.; Spokane, Wash.; Santa Barbara, Calif.; Yuma, Ariz.; and Provo, Utah.

Popular rural locales include Cape Cod in Massachusetts, parts of the Catskills in New York, the Ozarks near Little Rock in Arkansas, the Atlantic shore of New Jersey, counties south of Bangor and south of Portland in Maine, and Canyon County, just west of Boise, Idaho.

These elderly transplants are good for towns, McCarthy notes, as they have more spending money than most people, and they don't burden the job market.

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''This whole situation is a dramatic change from the past,'' says McCarthy, but adds that the mobility of the elderly is rooted in two factors that may change: elderly affluence and early retirement.

First, social security benefits with cost-of-living increases and expanding private pension plans have given many of the elderly the financial cushion they need to up and move. As the population ages, these staples may not be able to pay as well as they do now.

Second, roughly a third as many of today's 65-year-old men are still working in proportion to the percentage still working 30 years ago. Economic factors, such as uncertain social security benefits and a possible labor shortage, could reverse this trend toward early retirement.

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