Many retirees are looking to move to the American South because of its mild climate, low cost of living, historical charm, and natural beauty. Mississippi is often overlooked because of its high poverty and unemployment rates, low education rates, and hot, sweltering summers. Yet Mississippi has much going for it, including low home prices, miles of Gulf coastline, and a low tax rate (retirement income, including IRA and 401(k) distributions, is exempt from state tax). Although there are many isolated, rural areas, there are also quaint small towns and culturally rich urban areas.
The state maintains an official retiree attraction program, in which Mississippi towns apply to become Certified Retirement Cities and undergo a three-month screening process that evaluates their cost of living, tax structure, crime rate, availability of medical care, recreation, educational and cultural opportunities, and community spirit. Currently there are 15 such cities. Here are several places in the Magnolia State that retirees might consider.
Hattiesburg is one of the most desirable retirement locations in the state and was selected as one of the “100 Best Retirement Towns in America” by Where to Retire magazine. The town hosts the University of Southern Mississippi and over 250,000 people, but retains its small-town charm and feel.
The university supports a lifelong learning institute for retirees who wish to take or audit classes. There are also William Carrey, a private Baptist university, and Pearl River Community College nearby. The universities support a variety of artistic and cultural activities such as exhibits and symphony concerts.
The downtown theater holds regular performances, and the nearby cultural center has an art gallery and history museum. The town is centrally located, about two hours away from the state capital of Jackson, New Orleans, and the Gulf Coast. There are 12 year-round golf courses within 30 miles, and the active parks and recreation department and historical society maintain many facilities for residents and also welcome volunteers.
Oxford is known for its artistic, literary, and intellectual heritage. Nobel Prize-winning author William Faulkner lived here and based many of his works on the town’s local residents and places. His antebellum mansion, Rowan Oak, still exists and is open for tours. Modern authors Richard Ford, John Grisham, and Curtis Wilkie also make their home there.
The University of Mississippi has seven main educational divisions, and allows residents over age 65 to take up to four hours each semester for free. The university also houses various historical museums with displays ranging from ancient Greek and Roman treasures to B.B. King’s personal albums.
There are several golf courses in the area, and golf-course communities have homes literally built on the fairways. The walkable downtown area has local restaurants, boutiques, and art galleries. According to Christy Knapp, the executive vice president of economic development, the residents are welcoming and even have a newcomers’ club to help retirees and other new arrivals get acquainted.
Natchez is the oldest city on the Mississippi River, and works hard to preserve its three-centuries of history. Over 500 antebellum structures still exist in the city, their various designs reflecting the five different nations that have controlled the city in the past. Twice a year, visitors come for special home tours, and in May the month-long Opera festival allows residents and visitors to experience arias and altos.
There are other annual events as well: the Literary and Cinema Celebration in February hosts lectures and exhibits by noted authors and filmmakers. The Great Mississippi River Baloon Race has three days of hot air baloon races and live music on the hills overlooking the river.
The many visitors give rise to lots of local restaurants and shops. Natchez Under-the-Hill was once a notorious gambling district by the river, and today a modern casino still supports gaming, dining, and entertainment.
The Mississippi Gulf Coast is a special area of the state. With beachside communities scattered along 26 miles of white sand beaches, this area has affordable amenities for residents and visitors.
The warm Gulf waters are good for swimming, boating, and fishing for speckled trout, red snapper, and billfish. The inland rivers and bays also are popular for fishing, and charter boats are available for rent all year round for deep-sea fishing. There are also plenty of places for camping and picnicking. Residents can take a ferry from the coastal town of Gulfport to West Ship Island, known for good shell collecting and swimming.
The local restaurants offer fresh gulf seafood, and twelve casinos on the coast sponsor national entertainers, sporting events, and more restaurants. Military retirees can take advantage of shopping and amenities at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi and the Naval Construction Battalion in Gulfport. Gulfport is the second-largest city in Mississippi and has many shops and restaurants. It is also just 1 ½ hours away from New Orleans.
The coast also supports an active artistic environment. There are many galleries and exhibits, including the Ohr-O’-Keefe Museum of Art and the Peter Anderson festival. The coast also has over 20 world-class golf courses designed by the likes of Palmer and Nicklaus.
Despite all of these attractions, the cost of living on the Mississippi coast is still 7% below the national average.
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