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Pittsburgh ranks high as great place for older residents

Debra Erdley
| Friday, Sept. 30, 2011

It's not Sun City, but a survey released on Thursday ranks the Steel City third among the nation's 10 top metropolitan areas for older Americans, those over age 65.

The survey, done by research firm Sperling's Best Places and sponsored by Bankers Life and Casualty Co. Center for Secure Retirement, looked at 10 indicators from 50 cities and metropolitan areas, including health care, the economy, housing, transportation and crime. Pittsburgh ranked at the top of the list for the region's economy and ranked high for transit services and spiritual life.

Overall, only Minneapolis-St. Paul and Boston ranked ahead of Pittsburgh.

Irene Deutsch, 79, of Lawrenceville isn't surprised that the city where she has lived her entire life is near the top of the list.

"Why wouldn't it be• We have the Steelers, the Pens and the Pirates," she said, smiling broadly as she held up a vibrantly colored T-shirt she tie-dyed at the Lawrenceville Senior Center.

Elizabeth Mulvaney, a licensed social worker who specializes in geriatrics and lectures in the University of Pittsburgh's School of Social Work, said it would be a mistake to minimize such amenities.

Mulvaney said there are many reasons the Pittsburgh area has the highest concentration of seniors -- nearly 18 percent of the population here is 65 or older -- among the 50 cities the survey weighed. And the survey doesn't reflect all of them.

Like Deutsch, who can visit four of her six children in the city, Mulvaney said many older Pittsburghers have extended family with deep neighborhood roots.

"So they have family support, and having family support nearby is incredibly important as you age. ... We have sports here, and that pulls people together and brings people to events. We have things like Steeler games and tailgate parties that are multigenerational events," Mulvaney said.

Although the Pittsburgh region still has a large portion of residents older than 65, their numbers have declined slightly in recent years. The 2010 Census found 406,506 individuals ages 65 or older in the six-county region last year, down 2.6 percent from 417,695 recorded 10 years earlier.

Carnegie Mellon University economist Robert Strauss said factors such as the region's moderate cost of living, relatively inexpensive housing and the broad availability of health care weigh heavily with older people.

Indeed, Pennsylvania first recognized the needs of older residents four decades ago when it dedicated its lottery money to tax subsidies and rent rebates for seniors and followed up with a low-cost prescription drug program before Congress authorized Medicare's prescription program.

"We weren't interested in another study on where to enjoy your retirement, but instead wanted to find cities that did the best job in providing the services and support that seniors need," said Bankers Life and Casualty President Scott Perry.

"It makes some sense," Strauss said.

Mulvaney noted that several universities offer low-cost classes for seniors, and programs offered through Pittsburgh's senior centers provide opportunities for reduced-cost access to cultural amenities such as concerts and plays.

"There is just a lot here that people can do," she said.

Although younger workers might bemoan reductions in the region's public transit service, Mulvaney said Allegheny County seniors have free access to buses in nonpeak hours.

And if the frequent cloudy weather ensures that Pittsburgh never will become Sun City, at least it has "a moderate climate and not much snow," Strauss said.

Additional Information:

The top 10

Top 10 U.S. cities for seniors 2011:

1. Minneapolis-St. Paul

2. Boston

3. Pittsburgh

4. Cleveland

5. Denver

6. Milwaukee

7. San Francisco

8. Portland, Ore.

9. Kansas City

10. Newark

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