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Some perspective from AARP Florida state director on why Florida dominates list of top spots for retirees

Stephen "Dr. Beach" Leatherman named Grayton Beach State Park as the number one beach in the country.
Stephen "Dr. Beach" Leatherman named Grayton Beach State Park as the number one beach in the country.

U.S. News and World Report has released its ranking of the best places to retire in the U.S., and Florida claimed eight of the top 10 spots among the 150 largest metros.

Daytona Beach, Melbourne, Ocala and Orlando are included in the top 25.

Jeff Johnson is state director for AARP Florida. He spoke with me about the report and Florida's place as a retirement destination.

[audio mp3="https://www.wmfe.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/RETIREES-Interview.mp3"][/audio]

JEFF JOHNSON: These lists are fun, and they can be helpful for people. And you know, a lot of different organizations do them. Frankly, AARP has put out lists that are similar to this in the past, too.

What I've learned is that you have to look and see what they're actually measuring. And what I saw in this particular list was they measure a lot of really important things around housing and health care and happiness. But the things that really drove Florida to the top were really two measures. One was desirability. So they surveyed a bunch of people and said, If you had, if you're going to retire, where would you want to go? And apparently a lot of people want to come to Florida. And net migration, which is a measure of how many people actually are moving to Florida versus people who are leaving.

So think about this Joe from our perspective as Floridians. We need to be prepared for that, because the folks are going to continue to come and it is up to us to make sure that Florida is not only a top place to retire, but a best place to retire.

WMFE: Let's say you're talking to someone who's considering retiring to Florida and they want to know the pluses and minuses of retiring here. How would you describe those?

JEFF JOHNSON: For a lot of people weather is really attractive. ... I think that for many people, Florida is considered a relatively affordable state. I would think that that is changing a little bit as the housing market blooms and as other issues arise, but there are people who look at Florida as a less expensive living option than where they are today.

And then I think that there is a mystique to Florida that begins with the fact that so many people vacation here over the course of their lifetime. Either they go to the beaches or the theme parks or take advantage of the beautiful natural resources here in Florida. And the idea of making that setting their permanent setting is just super attractive.

What I would say though, is that people also need to think about what life is really going to be like here. I mean, are you going to be able to get involved in things that you're interested in? Are you going to ... if you reach a point where you no longer want to drive and get on the highway to go places, is your community built so that there are other ways for you to get to the store or to events you want to attend, that sort of thing. And so thinking through what life looks like as a Floridian is something that I'm not sure enough people do before they they pull up stakes and head down here.

WMFE: Obviously, retirement means different things for different people, and some people when they retire, they still need to work. How is Florida set to meet the needs of those people?

JEFF JOHNSON: The notion of retirement has changed considerably over the last couple of decades really. For many people, it is less about the traditional retirement of ceasing all paid work and only relaxing, to something that is really kind of more of a mix, of a reinvention. So you see people who start new businesses or who do consulting work in the industry they did before or people who just want some or need some part time work to help pay the bills.

I'd say that Florida certainly has a track record of employing people who are older in variety of jobs. I think that employer by employer, there's always a cultural challenge I think that employers need to wrestle with about how we accept and treat employees regardless of their age.

Joe Byrnes came to Central Florida Public Media from the Ocala Star-Banner and The Gainesville Sun, where he worked as a reporter and editor for several years. Joe graduated from Loyola University in New Orleans and turned to journalism after teaching. He enjoys freshwater fishing and family gatherings.