Juneau: A good place to retire

The number of senior citizens in Alaska is increasing at a rate of more than four times the national average.

The oldest Alaskans reside in the Panhandle, according to the 2011 Juneau and Southeast Economic Indicators.

The annual one-stop guide to Juneau’s economy for the previous year is published by the Juneau Economic Development Council. It shows senior citizens – defined as age 65 and over — were 8 percent of Juneau’s population in 2010.

JEDC Program Officer Meilani Schijvens says that’s nearly double from ten years ago.

“An increase of about 1400 residents in their 60s. By the year 2024, one in five Juneau residents, or 18 percent of the town’s population, will be senior citizens, compared to one in 20 in 1990″ Schijvens says.

Baby boomers are choosing to stay in Alaska after retirement. With sales and property tax exemptions still in place in the capital city, it’s seen as one of the best places to retire.

“U.S. News and World Report has ranked us one of the communities to retire in, in terms of tax breaks and also in terms of having access to an active lifestyle,” Schijvens says.

One-quarter of Juneau employees work for the state of Alaska. Most of those recently retired or approaching retirement age have been in the state system long enough to be part of the defined benefit plan, which provides medical insurance into retirement as well as a set monthly pension check. For many, that makes it affordable to continue living in Juneau.

JEDC Executive Director Brian Holst says Juneau also offers an expanding health care industry.

“We have a disproportionately good health care system for the size of our community, in part because this is a hub for the region, but also because we have a lot of ensured workers in Juneau, which allows us to have a robust health care,” Holst says. But as the Juneau and Southeast region age, more senior support services will be needed, he says.

Schijvens says another group of Juneau’s population is expanding: the “20-somethings.”

“Between 2000 and 2010 the number of people in Juneau age 20 to 29 grew by 17 percent, so that’s 629 (additional) people.”

In the year 2000, the annual Economic Indicators report showed a lack of people in their 20s in Juneau. Schijvens says the age group was the only category under 50 to grow over the last ten years.

The 35 to 39 age group has declined 27 percent in the last decade.

“We have in Juneau a large baby boomer population. Those baby boomers had kids and that population shift is now moving into their 20s and there are not as many people in their 30s,” Schijvens says. “So it’s simply a matter of following the local demographics.”

Juneau’s median age increased from 35 in the year 2000 to 38 last year. Statewide, the median age is younger, while it’s slightly older in the Southeast region. It’s notably older in Haines and Wrangell, where the median age is 46. Nationally, the median age is 37.

A link to the Juneau and Southeast Economic Indicators 2011 can be found at www.jedc.org.