The U.S. News & World Report ranked Iowa #1 in its Best States rankings this week. Iowa’s surge in technological infrastructure has helped Iowa leap from its #6 position in 2017 to the best state in the U.S. for 2018. Other contributing factors include Iowa’s #3 ranking for health care, #4 in opportunity, #5 in education, and #9 in quality of life. The healthcare ranking is based on access to healthcare (#5), healthcare quality (#9), and public health measures (#11) related to obesity, smoking prevalence, suicide rates, mental health, and mortality rates across the lifespan. Iowan’s have access to healthcare and the quality of their care is ranked quite high. The ranking included consideration of Medicaid members who have access, but it is unclear how this ranking has been impacted by Iowa’s Medicaid system overhaul.
The opportunity ranking is high primarily due to Iowa’s ranking of affordable housing to median income ratio, which ranks #3 in the nation. Troubling, however, is that Iowa ranks an embarrassing #36 in equality associated with opportunity. Equality ranks a state’s gender parity, racial inequality in education rates, income and unemployment rates. Clearly this is an area for improvement for the state.
Iowa’s natural environment ranking (#18) relates to measures of air and water quality, pollution, and industrial toxins and social environment (#10) measures community engagement, social support, and voter participation making up it overall #9 ranking for quality of life.
Iowa’s economic and business environment rankings were consistently ranked below #36 despite potential growth in non-farm business growth. What seemed to be missing from these rankings is how older adults contribute to these rankings and older adult contributions continue to be absent in the general discussion for Iowa’s lofty position as the Best State in the U.S.
The U.S. News & World Report also ranks Iowa as the fourth best state in which to age. Interestingly, high ranking measures for the Best State ranking related to health care were not as true for older Iowans. Iowa ranked #33 in the primary care measure and #23 in the physical activity measure. Quality in Medicare services were ranked #18. Iowa also ranked #18 in total population over age 65 and had a very low unemployment rate (#6).
Based on the Older Iowans: 2017 report, there are an estimated 491,349 Iowans over the age of 65, which makes up about 16.1% of the Iowa’s total population. It is projected that Iowan’s over the age of 60 will make up more than 25% of the population by 2025, just seven years from now. That is tremendous growth in the number of older Iowans.
Older Iowans assuredly contribute to Iowa’s #1 ranking. Nearly 89% of older Iowans have a high school diploma and 16.1% have a higher education degree. Nearly 22% served in the military. Only 7% of Iowans over 65 live in poverty and social security benefits accounts for $626,085,000 in total benefits, much of which is reinvested in Iowa itself. Contrary to popular belief, not all of Iowa’s older adults migrate out of state when the turn 65. In fact, 92.9% of Iowan’s over age 65 stay in Iowa and 72.1% are registered voters. It may also be surprising to many that 18.6% of Iowa’s labor force is over the age of 65. Bottom line: Iowa’s older adults are clearly strong contributors to Iowa’s #1 ranking.
While Iowa’s aging network, consisting of six Area Agencies on Aging, is a resource for all older adults, it is dedicated to providing supports and services that help those at risk for poverty or at risk of losing their independence through disability or health decline. Iowa’s Area Agencies on Aging are key access points for information and services (LifeLong Links) for older adults, individuals with disabilities, and family caregivers.