Flight from… Flight to…


Do you ever contemplate what the RV lifestyle says about you as a citizen? It’s something I think about from time to time; something that our recent visit to The Villages has brought to the fore again.

Have we gone a-RV’ing?  Or have we fled from something else?  And how much of what we do as RV’ers, or as retirees, diminishes our impact as citizens in the wider world?  Consider this a meditation on how retiree behavior can if we allow ourselves have the same negative impact on the society from which we came as the opening of a new Walmart typically has upon the economic base of the cities where they build.  A new Walmart, suddenly everyone wants the cheapest price they can find and soon the old established businesses in the community who cared for their employees and wanted more than just profit fold up and close.  As Boomers hit retirement age — the largest number of new retirees in history — what will be our impact on others — not just what kind of retirement will we have?Tax Shelter

Chances are, if you are over 50 years of age you have checked out at least 1 of the Best Places to Retire listings.  There are oodles of them, organized by all sorts of different organizations for diverse reasons, and some of them are repeated annually to keep you up to snuff on where’s the best place for you to live.  I find it interesting that people think you can quantify everything — like the best place to live.  (But that’s a topic I’m not going to tackle.)

What factors do people typically consider when planning to retire?  I’ll bet weather and cost-to-live-there are right up there near the top of the list.  Perhaps access-to-quality-medical-care rates up there, as well as crime rate. For sure taxes are considered in that category of cost of living.

The Villages is a conflagration of numerous real estate developments all lumped together in one tight area and effectively combined into a town/city. There are retirement developments all around the country.  In Cudahy we had a large senior only housing development directly across the street from us.  But it was not large enough to have its own city status, police, fire, or shopping district — it was simply a collection of a few buildings.  Large  retirement  communities (like The Villages or the Del Webb communities spread around the country) exist where they do because of the developers attempt to capitalize on perceived strengths of a particular area — usually cost related.  The cost factor is not universally the determining factor on where to site one of these communities. After all, the Del Webb organization put a retirement community near Elgin IL — because of it’s proximity to Chicago.  It might be cold during the winter, and it may not be a cheap place to live but they will never run out of potential clients by siting this development within an hour of The Windy City — it alone is a major attraction to some and a major drawback to others.

property_tax_median_rate top_income_tax_rates_displayFlorida and Texas are big on the retirement horizon in part because they have NO personal property tax and their real estate taxes are significantly lower than some states.  Heck, I could buy a comparable valued house in either state, in or close to a major metro area and pay less than 2/3’s the real estate taxes we paid in Cudahy or West Allis.  And some of the places we’ve visited have had real property taxes as low as 1/10th what we were accustomed to paying in Wisconsin.

sales_tax_smallThe kicker is that low property tax and low or non-existent income tax relates to quality of life and available services.  Some of that is/can be compensated for by higher sales taxes.  Wisconsin had 5.5% when we left Milwaukee.  It’s higher now because of state decisions to fund sports team stadiums but that’s another issue.  The graph to the side considers both state and local rates resulting in different numbers than you might find in any given community in the state.

Clearly the areas favored by RV’ers as their domicile tend to be those states without Income Tax.  Who wants to pay more tax than necessary.  By selling one’s home and RV’ing you also avoid real estate taxes — on a home valued at $180,000 we paid +$5,000 per year to our local community in property tax.  That’s a lot of money we could spend on food, entertainment, gasoline if we hadn’t been paying it to the city for local government and services (none of which were all that great to begin with)

There are not that many RV’ers in the world.  The retirees who can afford, or who choose to go RV’ing will not bankrupt the local community because of lost income.  Sure, with all the Boomers retiring, and some of us choosing to go RV’ing there is some loss by local communities but I doubt that it will ever be sufficient to cripple local governments.  But we do have an impact on those we leave behind.

We talk among ourselves about the responsibility to serve as jurors, or the responsibility to vote.  We all have our ways of dealing with these things.  Some will do whatever they need to live up to their responsibility; others will do all they can to avoid those same responsibilities.  That’s a function of how we take our civic duties.

By moving our of sticks & bricks we also remove ourselves from active participation in many aspects of community:  we are no longer supporting churches, civic groups, clubs, etc., in the areas we left when we retired.  There is also the impact on family — though in our society today so many families have been fragmented by college and the move away from home for careers that the several million of us RV’ers are not responsible for the decline of the nuclear family — we are, perhaps, a result OF it.  More and more retirees go RV’ing as a way to visit their family more often than would be the case if they lived in sticks & bricks.

I’m not asking questions for answers. I’m posing questions that perhaps we all should think about a little more often.  Living cheaply may not be the only mandate a retiree faces. If we made our ‘fortune’ in the big city, and bought our big house in the suburbs do we have any legitimate responsibility to stay there as seniors?  To continue participating in the society that gave us those advantages?  It’s easy to say, “We did our share, it’s someone else’s turn now.”  Is it always the right thing to say?  I don’t know.  If I had an easy — or a perfect — answer I might be doing things differently than I am.  As it is, we take each day one at a time in our Life Unscripted.  We make the best decisions we can on the day and hope to do the same tomorrow.

Thanks for stopping by, and let’s talk again tomorrow.

 

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11 Comments

  1. I love your thought provoking posts! 😀 I feel no responsibility to stay where I earned my chops. I passed the baton when I left each place and they have done quite well without my input. I used to worry about stuff like that until I realized I am not as important as I think I am. I know I make an impact where ever I go and with whatever I do…in my own individual way. But when I’m gone, someone else will quickly take my place and I’ll be forgotten. So, I have learned to love where I am and do the best I can where I am. By the way, one draw back to lower economic areas is that those things skewed to annual per capita income indexes always are unfavorable to the residents. A big one of those is low wages which affects everyone.

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    1. When I talked about staying I was thinking particularly about remaining part of that community & continuing to support that area with one’s taxes/labor/influence. For example, this morning as I’m sitting in the customer waiting room there are two couples talking about two of them having been R/E agents and their multiple homes (as in more than 2) and multiple RV’s. They both were from areas with particularly high tax rates and it struck me how intellectually dishonest it is to ‘use’ the population density to make your fortune and then to flee to another area of lower tax burden to keep more of it. We continue to keep our tax base in WI where we lived and earned. There are many places cheaper but thus far we have avoided the temptation to do otherwise.

      I came from a cultural background that taught me to give, to be part of a community. The idea that society is only good for what you can take from it bothers me. For one thing, such a society cannot long endure. Comes a time when enough people have taken from enough others that the entire society has been impoverished for the benefit of a few. Nothing new in the history of mankind; but then we like to ‘think’ that we are somehow further advanced than those who lived millennia before.

      And such considerations are never easy. Nor are the answers universal. All 4 of my grandparents emigrated from Poland in pursuit of something else/better/different. Of the four three of them left all behind. One did not. My paternal grandmother returned several times — she took over art supplies and cash and returned with completed oil paintings. Clearly she was not ready to leave everything behind. The others were.

      People talk about putting down roots and I wonder sometimes what they mean by “roots.” A place to raise your kids until they move out is one thing. A place to earn a living is another. A place to become a respected and honored part of the community is yet another. And of course the choice is up to us individually. And others want not part of roots — no matter what they mean.

      Sure, my thinking about such things will cure nothing, it will change little. I don’t know who much any philosopher or thinker ever thought their ideas would infect the world with a new idea that would change human history. And yet ideas have changed human history. And sometimes it’s not that one person has the idea. Sometimes it’s that many like minded people share the same idea.

      In closing, you know I don’t hear the term ‘citizen’ very often anymore. I hear a lot about voters this past year — and we will continue doing so. But I don’t know how much people feel themselves part of the United States of America anymore. There are plenty of retired Marines. There are plenty of retired Navy. There are plenty of Republicans and Democrats. People find ways to identify but the movement from place to place and awareness of other cultures has done a lot to change the patterns of identification amongst people who all reside in the same place.

      The terrorists who use explosives are in a sense more honest than the terrorists who use ideas, fear, and judgment. The rich terrorize the poor everyday by removing themselves from among the average guy and spending their considerable resources only among others of like means.

      In my grandparents day, doctors, lawyers, and other professionals lived among their neighbors. Today those of means flee to places where they can be among those “like themselves,” but those they leave behind really ARE like them — for them grew up among them, they rose to success on the shoulders of their peers and then leaving them behind just seems to be morally dishonest.

      but who talks about morality in a secular world without values?

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      1. Wow…so much to respond to, I am sure I won’t cover it all. I do feel that the diversity caused by massive influx of foreigners over the last several decades has caused the United States to change. Rick and I were recently talking about the fact that immigrants today are not the same as those in the past.In the past, they wanted to come to America and worked hard to be part of this culture. Nowadays, immigrants come here and recreate their own cultures here. That is not to say that even older immigrants didn’t collectively gather in one area or another, you see that in almost every state…the Irish community, the Germans, the Chinese.

        I think two things magnified the changes, the first being that we no longer created our own country when we started translating everything into other national languages. Everything from drivers test to voting ballots. My thought has always been if you want the rights of an American you need to learn the language. Another thing that really changed where I lived in particular was the hiring of foreigners for temporary work. The tech industry started hiring by project contract, very much like the government did when my dad worked for Lockheed. These people would earn money here and then send it back home to support their families where the dollar has a much greater value. I have seen this with many nationalities. They come over with H1 visas and when the contracts expire, if they haven’t established another contract they go back home. These people never had the intention of supporting our economy.

        Some of the blame falls back on our educational system failures. Companies would not hire foreigners if the could find people in the US that qualified. But is that really the situation? I think not. I know for a fact that companies liked to hire foreigners because they would work nonstop crazy hours. They were paid on salary, most started without family in this country and they had all the time in the world to put in time at work. Did you notice the switch in our work habit? It used to be 9-5 and then go home, now it’s work, work, work…an expectation…particularly in competitive fields like the tech industry. Many kids don’t get home until 6-7 pm and dinner is rarely a family together at the table.

        But in all fairness, our early immigrants took on any job and worked any amount of hours, too. The big difference is that money was saved up to bring their families here…not to support a family that they would one day be returning to on some foreign land.

        And lest this reply get too long, I will save my comments on how marketing…in all forms has caused more harm to “the citizen” than anything else.

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      2. Points well take, all.

        Agreed about the difference in immigration and immigrant intent.

        Heck, in 1900 three quarters of all business in Milwaukee was conducted in GERMAN — so some of our perception is, perhaps, flawed. And that’s one reason I do more thinking than deciding. There are things I wonder and question but I don’t always have a full range of knowledge — including what things were like 100 years ago.

        The sending of money home also is not new. My (I guess he was a…) Great Uncle sent money back to Poland, for the purpose of bringing his sister (my maternal grandmother) over to the states. Others sent home to ease the lives of their families still in Europe.

        While I was in Poland — a year or two before Solidarity — Poles who had almost nothing on their grocery shelves were stocking up and sending much of the little they had to their relations in the Ukraine because they had even less. Compassion for one’s family — no matter where you are — is a pretty common thing I suspect. And rightly so. It didn’t make Poland any weaker; and I’m not sure it makes the U.S. any weaker

        I agree that the influx of immigrants has made a change, but I question whether they are coming here for different reasons or whether they are coming here because the country is portrayed differently than formerly. (Poor sentence structure there but you get the idea) I don’t know.

        I find it difficult to blame immigrants, easy to blame bureaucracy. Immigrants to any country are all trying to improve their lives. The fact that both in this country and around the world in general the difference between the super rich and the desperately poor has grown rather than diminished has also had a huge impact. Immigrants here can afford to send money home because so many of us live like kings compared to those in Developing Nations. If you are accustomed to living that way, what even a day laborer makes is WEALTH compared to what they left behind. And if that’s your perspective you are happy to scrimp and save to help others.

        It seems like we have entered a period where we want to punish people — whether fining them for not having health insurance, or putting people in jail, or just making life difficult for them.

        I agree that bilingualism in a Nation is not a good thing. People “should” (IMHO) be expected to assimilate. But why is it that we can’t mobilize people to exercise their citizen duties — like voting. People seem not to care about the nation they live in. And in that I mean those who have been born and raised, not the influx of new.

        To be honest — if I were placing blame — I’d place an awful lot on the unintended consequences of Capitalism. I truly feel that we no longer live in a democracy, or a republic. We have allowed capitalism to develop and mature to such a point that everything is for sale — including government and people. The mere fact that we will watch our neighbors by the thousands lose their livelihoods to competition by the Walmarts of the world who take from neighborhoods more than they leave behind — all because we all want to buy things for the cheapest possible cost. Comes a time when we have impoverished our neighbors and ourselves by short-sighted thinking. The same applies to contract labor — we want the work done for the cheapest price regardless where we have to go to get the labor — including overseas call centers, and imported physicians.

        It’s a complex subject, for sure. And I have no magic answers. All I can do is ask questions, consider the circumstances and make the best life for myself that I can morally justify. 🙂 And give others to do the same. (All the while cringing over whether the american electorate is going to be stupid enough to elect The Donald)…..

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      3. Interesting about early Milwaukee immigrants speaking German…and it makes sense as does other nationalities joining the same community. Be in a place where you can be understood and can understand others…survival.

        So much of what you say I can agree with but I think there are more factors in an already complex situation. You speak of voting and we are currently in one of the largest voter participation periods in decades. Why? Because the country is divided between the have nots and those who feel they have lost something they once had…why someone like Trump seems desirable is because so many see the corruption in the government and no longer want a president who can be bought. Bernie Sander’s has a similar appeal, though the Clinton’s know how to work the machine and may win out despite Bernie’s popularity. Clinton should have been a slam dunk, being a woman. The fact that she has struggled so much is indicative of the people being tired of “political rhetoric”.

        I have always maintained that Walmart plays a pivotal part in our social and economic decline…it’s a degrading place to shop in, yet so many people do because the prices are lower…I admit we are one of them. Rick does the bulk of the shopping there and I buy the produce and gluten free at Publix. I wish I could afford to skip Walmart altogether. But, behind every Walmart is an investor who wants to make money off their success. This is true of every capitalist company. Just a few weeks ago Carrier shut down a huge plant laying off 1/3 of a town, planning to move to Mexico even though they made 7 billion dollars in profits last year. The question that arose at a senate hearing was…Isn’t 7 billion profit enough? Apparently Carrier didn’t think so and I’d bet dollars to donuts, those heavily invested didn’t mind either. I do think the Walmart family is overly greedy with their profits as individuals but they are market driven. There are still many capitalists who are committed to sharing the majority of their wealth and they have challenge other big capitalists to do so as well…for a while, it was catching on but may have lost steam over the past few years.

        On the other side of the coin, I do believe that our government has disabled the American poor more than any capitalist. They have done so with the welfare system and giving out free money without any exchange. There are millions, maybe billions who choose to stay on welfare because they make the same amount of money working, so why not stay home and do nothing. They also don’t pay into the medical program. Included are the people who disable themselves through drugs and alcohol that end up on disability because they are addicts. I met some of those during my shelter times. People I helped get out of the shelters and into homes, ending up getting more money than me…who was out there working and making an honest living. The system is rigged so that good, honest people don’t get rewarded.One of the problems I ran into when trying to get a job was that I was not a reformed criminal, a reformed drug addict or on disability. Seems that’s what the employers were looking for. I ran into a similar situation during affirmative action. Being white, straight and honest…I just didn’t have the right pedigree.

        Add to that the constant influx of marketing that hits an individual…telling them to buy, buy, buy. Where is all the creativity? There used to be lots of people practicing doing it yourself. People don’t work on cars anymore because they are too complex. They don’t fix things when they are broken because technology has advanced so much that you have to go to an expert to fix something. We have moved from a doing era to a being serviced era.

        There are two documentaries that go over the positive and negative of the capitalist country. The first is The Men Who Built America and the second is Greed narrated by John Stossel (now on YouTube) both are excellent and Greed is quite thought provoking.

        Enjoying our dialogue…off to work! 😀 Have a good day!

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      4. I have not been listening to much of the news coverage about the electioneering so I’m out of the loop on some aspects.

        Yet, our Wisconsin PRIMARY was very poorly turned out — no better than any other miserable primary turnout — so even though there’s a hue and cry going up about what’s going on in the country — I don’t see serious activism in WI. Further, WI has been in a series of conflicts over it’s Republican Governor. There was a recall campaign and a recall election — not strongly turned out, but retaining him anyway. I don’t know enough about other states to know whether the noise I hear translates to any real action on the part of the electorate or whether it’s all heat and no light.

        I agree that there are many capitalists who have done wonderful philanthropic things. I also know that historically the Carnegies and Rockefellers and many who have done great good have done it after a lifetime of near atrocities — I am glad to see the good done — but would be happier of the evil had not been done in the process of amassing all that wealth. Particularly when we castigate 3rd World countries for trying to develop being as unethical as we were in our national youth — I have always had a hard time with selective memories regarding history. The big philanthropic gestures by Buffett and Gates and others are like many ‘trends’ are the obsessions of the moment. A few are serious — and that’s good, but too many are happy for the publicity that is to be had at the moment and not all that worried about following through on what they may have promised or seemed to promise. I’m not a cynic — but when you see lies over and over it’s hard to trust those who have been seen to lie straight-faced.

        The Walmarts and Carriers are but examples. And Capitalism doesn’t think ANY profit is enough. There are thousands of examples. And not only are investors never satisfied, they can be very upset even by extraordinary results if the results don’t meet the hype generated by the companies themselves. Carrier is a WI corporation and the action in re: that one plant has been having ongoing ripples in La Crosse.

        Since RV’ing we have gone to more Walmarts than ever before. In large part because they are friendly to RV’ers. Still, we buy as much as we can locally, and from mom & pops. The times we really end up at Wally World is when we are literally IN the coach and need the parking spot. Our groceries, etc. we really try to source locally. Having been self employed I think it’s important for me to respect others who still are.

        See… you are able to divorce government from Capitalism and I cannot do that. Government does what it does because of the influence of lobby and PAC dollars. And, of course, because millionaire politicians are completely out of touch with real life. Those in power never want to share power with those who have none. There’s nothing new about that and the more people who amass serious wealth the more different ways our politicians are drawn — but money still has a primary directive: to amass more money.

        There are of course fundamentals that cannot be changed. The only way this country stays viable is by continuing to fund the military-industrial complex. If we don’t go to war too many people are out of jobs and the economy grinds to a halt. Production is essential to prosperity and ways to get more people to buy more things are the highest goals to be achieved. Government exists to keep the nation functioning. And the average citizen has very little idea how complex those needs may be.

        Your points about the welfare state are well taken. That’s the reason the Republicans have been to whacked out about Obama. It was clear long before he was elected the 1st time that his vision of America was very different from what exists today. And Sanders positions take Obama’s viewpoint a dozen steps beyond. If the Republicans were upset about Obama they’d be livid with Sanders as a president.

        This is a never ending problem that the likes of us will never solve. But I still think it’s good to talk about them and exercise our minds. Who knows — some day someone will come up with a better idea. Whether it will come to fruition bloodlessly has yet to be told….

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      5. On your last line…I always think of the Berlin Wall…things that seemed impossible do sometimes occur.

        Everything we have discussed over the last few days is all of what drives me crazy living in this country. I have actually considered living in another country but have found non thus far that doesn’t have it’s own set of problems.

        There was a television series some time back called LOST where plane crash victims stranded on an island had to survive. Through natural selection they self goverened to survive. In the series, the people had their various forms of drama except for one couple Bernard and Rose who decided to separate from the drama and goals of the group and create their own universe…each other. The two of them co-existed peacefully and in harmony. That’s Rick and I…where ever we are we create our own island of peace and harmony.

        Harmony is what is lacking in today’s world. Real hardship and gratitude for what little one has is rare…these qualities from our parents and grandparents. People who naturally were benevolent toward others. It is true, the poorest man will share his last bite of food…for he knows the feeling of hunger, whereas a rich one has no idea of what it’s like and cannot see.

        Wishing good thoughts for the world but taking care of my own in the process.

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      6. We too looked at the expatriate route and like you have not found an acceptable solution that also gives us the access to family that we want. The two of us are a lot like you and Rick. We know people who vacation with others and that’s the last thing we want to do … trying to find another couple that has anything like our rhythm and interests has never been easy, or very successful.
        Obviously, leading the lifestyle that we are, we haven’t convinced ourselves yet that we need to do differently than we are — yet. Will that change? I don’t know. (ask me again after the election — just kidding — or maybe not) 🙂 I gave up a lot of years of income before it was called volunteering — it was a conscious choice of ours based on our ideals and beliefs. I would never change that. And when we got wore out we stopped and lived like normal people with a regular job and all that stuff. Having given up that many years I don’t have any guilt that I have not given enough. That doesn’t stop me from asking myself whether there is anything I ought to be doing. To this day I listen for that still small voice. But I also know that I’m older and not as capable as once I was and it’s time for others to do what they can do too….

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  2. Our “home base” is Cleveland. We both spent the majority of our lives there, and all our children, grandchildren, siblings and remaining parents are there. We own no property, and don’t earn enough to pay state income taxes. We sold our coffee shop to our son, and it continues to operate without us.

    My feelings are this. We’ve raised 4 children. They’ve married, are raising children, they all own homes and are paying property taxes. I feel with my health, no matter where I live, I’m more of a burden to communities than the younger working people. We will vote for people, but not tax issues since we don’t pay any taxes other than sales and gasoline taxes.
    Our children belong to various scouting and sporting organizations for their children. They are the future, they are the community. I feel our biggest moral responsibility is to be supportive to our families and to be accessible to them whenever possible. We spend 4 months in the Cleveland area and try to visit everyone on a weekly basis. Our role now is doting grandparents, we have “passed the torch”.

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    1. Dave, As I’ve come to expect, a really thoughtful comment on a topic that doesn’t get enough discussion. Thank you.
      I think it’s good and important that RV’ers talk about these things whatever their point of view. For one thing we come to appreciate the variety of choices that fellow RV’ers make and we realize because of that that there is not just ONE right answer —
      Thanks again.

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