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State’s 55-plus communities see influx of early retirees

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Becky and Carl Schultz were 60 when they moved to Noble’s Pond, a Dover 55-plus community that bills itself as “Florida of the North.” They found the development on the internet.

After several trips, they were sold. No sales tax. The people were friendly. They could live in a beautiful, rural setting just a short car ride away from major cities. Dover’s slower pace and the seasonal weather changes were appealing – not horribly hot like Florida and none of the sizable lake-effect snowstorms they experienced living in suburban Cleveland, Ohio. Their real estate taxes now are a quarter of what they paid in Ohio, and, soon, they will be eligible for a senior citizen tax rebate.

“We were blessed to be able to retire here at 60,” said Becky Schultz, a retired IT manager who is learning to play pickle-ball. “We’ve been able to be very active down here because we retired early.”

The Schultzes say many of their neighbors are couples in their 50s, and that aligns with a recent much-publicized Smart Asset report that Delaware’s average retirement age is 63, right in line with the U.S. average.

The Smart Asset report was based on labor force participation data from the U.S. Census, though, and that data includes individuals who couldn’t find work, suffered a disability or have responsibilities at home, such as caregiver.

Neither the U.S. Census, the Bureau of Labor Statistics nor the Delaware Office of Occupational and Labor Market Information keeps retirement statistics, but about 12.4 percent of Delaware retirees are younger than 63, according to figures from the Center for Applied Demography and Survey Research at the University of Delaware.

Census figures show that 25 percent of state residents between the ages of 55 and 59 have left the workforce, for whatever reason, and 45 percent of those 60 to 64 have left. In the 65-to-74 age range, more than 76 percent have left.

Salespeople and community organizers at Delaware’s many 55-plus communities see that trend close up. Although federal law prohibits them from discussing the age of buyers, they do say a large number of prospective homeowners are looking for dances, water sports and other physical activities. For example, Mick Kenney, vice president for new homes at McKee Builders said buyers at their communities from Wilmington to Magnolia are very interested in pool volleyball, bocce ball and community gardens.

Delawareans with greater educational attainment tend to stay in the workforce longer, figures showed. “It makes a big difference what the occupation is. If you’re a truck driver and there are great physical demands, you might go out at 62,” said Ed Ratledge said, director of the Center for Applied Demography.

Center figures show 150,624 Delawareans over 55 identify as retired.

In addition, approximately 3,000 people retire each year to Delaware beach houses that were once their vacation homes, Ratledge said. Many are federal workers, who become eligible for retirement at 55. n

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