New: towns graded for retirees and young families

Where-To-Live Reports contain up to 21 measurements.
Now readers can be a bit more selective.

WTL C+ gradeNot all aspects of a town matter to everyone.

- Your family may have no school-age members for whom a declining quality of education matters, no asthmatics affected by poor air quality and pollen.

- You may be young and healthy with the quality of healthcare low among your priorities.

- Some people can’t or won’t bike or use public transport.

- Retirees aren’t usually concerned with employment opportunities, at least for themselves.

This means that, for some, the Overall grade we calculate for a town doesn’t tell you much. You need to collect the individual grades that are important to you, a time-consuming job if you are comparing multiple towns.

So we’ve done a little of the work for you. Check out the OTHER section at the bottom of each Where-To-Live Report for our new Young Family Grade and Retiree Grade. Unlike the Overall Grade, these average only selected measurements in the report. The Young Families Grade emphasizes education and jobs, the Retirees Grade Healthcare, Taxes and Cost of Living.

An oversimplification for sure. But we hope it will speed up comparisons for some users. (Remember that our reports grade only a town’s potential to protect residents from the predicted threats for this decade. They do not cover quality of life, amenities, and other important consideration about where to live – for which there are many other sources.)

Please let me know of any other selective grade we should calculate – or anything else you’d like to see in the Where-To-Live Reports.


Where is Sputnik when we need it?

The first man-made satellite, launched in 1957
sparked huge educational reforms in the US.

study just out shows – yet again – that Americans are markedly less well educated than our major competitors: 9th of 13 in literacy, 11th in math, 8th in problem-solving-using-computers. Even high-scoring Americans are a smaller percentage of the population than in Finland, Japan, and the Netherlands.

Where to live for America's really good schools?The question is not “Are we less skilled than Finland?” We know that. The question is “What would make us care?”

Given that 80% of Americans (and 60% of American teachers) probably can’t find Finland on a map, it’s not surprising there’s no reaction to our inferiority. The ever-present threat to eliminate the Education Department in Washington suggests that our politicians do not see an “education problem” either.

Back in 1957, however, Americans turned on their radios one morning to hear bleeping sounds from Sputnik, a Soviet-made satellite passing over their heads. The reaction was galvanic. Within months, violent hands were laid on America’s education system to wrestle our skills up to those being demonstrated by the Soviet Union. Some of those changes are still evident today.

We know it takes a dramatic event to galvanize change. Studies and reports can’t do it. So will something come along and bleep at us soon? Or, even if the US doesn’t see the need to raise its game, will some families think differently about how to school their kids – and maybe where to live - to make it more likely their kids can get skills that compete with the rest of the world?


Drug prescriptions inconsistent depending on where you live

Some drugs are risky for patients.
Some doctors are more conscious of this than others.

Many drugs, like Proton pump inhibitors (heartburn), SRI’s (depression), dementia medications, and new sedative-hypnotics (insomnia), don’t work for many patients. They’re called Discretionary medicines, and they can bring other problems.

Use of potentially harmful  medications among Medicare  beneficiaries

new study published by the Dartmouth Atlas Project tells us

“Discretionary medicines have less certain benefits, but may be effective in a subset of patients. For some patients such drug use will involve meaningful tradeoffs involving both side effects and cost.”

In other words, these drugs may not work for you; they may harm you; and they can cost a lot.

And here’s the kicker: “The use of discretionary medicines is common and varies widely among patients living in different regions.” And from the study’s press release, “Patients in Alexandria, La., (43%) were more than three times as likely to receive at least one high-risk medication as patients in Rochester, Minn. (14%).

Among the many provisions of the Affordable Care Act, some are aimed at refining and encouraging best practices in care. Let’s hope they become widespread soon. In the meantime, you might ask your doctors whether you’re on any Discretionary meds, and how you’ll know if they’re worth the trade-offs.


Doctors can now be paid to keep you well

When doctors are paid for cost-effectiveness, the government saves the costs,
and the effectiveness goes to you.

Accountable Care Organizations are springing upWe all know that, from one county to the next for the same medical procedure, there are huge differences in cost, and therefore in medical insurance. Sometimes double or more. Much of this is attributed to

- fee arrangements which reward physicians for over-treatment,

- referral by the doctors to treatment facilities they own,

- over-treatment as doctors protect against costly malpractice suits,

- and lack of care coordination with shared medical records.

The new Accountable Care Organizations, established by Congress under the Affordable Care Act, are designed to change these practices. In an ACO, if physicians give top-quality care at lower prices, they take home a share of the savings.

Key, of course, are reliable measures of both quality and costs. Demonstration projects have been working on these since Bush’s Prescription Drug Coverage law was passed.

Early this year, 428 hospitals had already signed on as ACOs, with an estimated 14 percent of the U.S. population being served. Maybe there’s one near your family.

The media talk about on Obamacare for the uninsured. Long-term, however, many of its benefits are meant for the rest of us.


New predictions of global warming – sooner than we thought

Less than half a lifetime.
A blink of an eye.

If researchers from the University of Hawaii have it right, for any given city, ”Within 35 years, even the lowest monthly dips in temperatures will be hotter than we’ve experienced in the past 150 years.” 

Climate Departure-AmericaThe map below gives the dates by which temperatures in American cities will exceed the highest temperatures recorded there in the past (1860-2005). This is the first time I’ve seen localized predictions for the timing of climate change.

Looks like today’s high school seniors across the center of America won’t turn 50 before a twentieth-century heat wave will have become the new normal in their hometowns. A blink of an eye from now.

Sure, many of us can adapt. Residents of Chicago can learn to live like Oklahomans do now, Friscans like Angelinos, Bostonians like Virginians. And sure, it may not happen quite as fast as these researchers say – although they based their predictions on 39 models developed independently by 21 climate centers in 12 different countries.

Still, it would be a good exercise for a family to sit together, close their eyes, and imagine what their hometown will be like in twenty years. And where they might rather be by then. Many will want to move north or into the mountains.

And since moving is a whole lot easier at certain times in our lives, for instance when we go to college, change jobs, or retire, that means we have only a few natural moments for moving between now and when our town becomes hotter than today’s heat wave. Most of us can’t just pull up stakes next year, but it makes sense to plan for when we can. We tend to stick around where we choose to go to school, where we made a good career move, or where retirement seemed attractive. So it pays to start factoring future temperatures into those decisions early. That way we just might make ‘keeper’ decisions.

[Note: our free Where-To-Live reports can give you crucial facts, including about heating and cooling, for thousands of US hometowns.]


Social unrest predicted soon from climate change in tropics

The polar bears may be losing habitat.
But it’s the tropics that will be in trouble sooner.

The big impacts of global warming will arrive much earlier in the tropics. So says a new study from scientists at the University of Hawaii.








Take a look at the dates on this map. They estimate “Climate departure,” when the average temperature of a city moves above the upper limit of its 1860-2005 maximums. The first city predicted to become hotter than its worst heat waves in the past is Kingston, Jamaica. Other major cities follow quickly.

The news that, despite images of polar bears drowning, climate will actually change faster in the tropics than the poles is not good. That’s where between 1 and 5 billion people will experience extreme climates before 2050. Think about the potential

effects on the world’s food supply,
pressures on the areas’ water supplies,
spread of infectious diseases,
heat stress,
conflicts over resources, and
resentment against countries at more temperate latitudes.

The study (based on 39 models developed independently by 21 climate centers in 12 different countries) highlights all this.

“Our results suggest that countries first impacted by unprecedented climates are the ones with the least capacity to respond,” coauthor Ryan Longman tells us. Ironically, these are the countries that are least responsible for climate change in the first place.

The Somalis and Libyans and Pakistanis don’t much like Americans now. Think how they and their neighbors may feel by 2040. And imagine the potential impact on the American family budget from food imports, security costs, humanitarian aid, and other adaptations.


Obamacare premiums? Depends on where you live.

Premiums under the Affordable Care Act vary more than 200%.
Where does your hometown stand?

ObamacareCostsMapObamacare has established standardized insurance plans, and insurance companies have priced them county-by-county. This list shines a spotlight on the variations in healthcare costs across the country.

And they are huge!

40-year-olds choosing the Silver Plan, pay an average cost (across the 36 states where the feds run the marketplaces) of $3,252. But in Lancaster County, PA you’d pay $2,448 and in Lee County, GA it’s $5,772.

For the same coverage.

This isn’t price gouging (at least not by the insurance companies, but that’s another story). These rates reflect the huge differences in healthcare costs across the country – differences that have been less obvious before now. If you are thinking about a move, the new national standards let you add local medical costs to your where-to-live list, along with schools, home prices, mortgage rates and other factors.


Jobs for young people – plentiful in certain metro areas

Many twenty-somethings can’t get their careers started
thanks to ‘structural shifts’ in the economy.

Lost GenerationBut “young people may be able to improve their chances of finding employment substantially by relocating to a stronger labor market.” So says Failure to Launch, a study just published by the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University. The Summary is a good place to learn about those structural shifts.

The scene is bad out there.

“In 1980, young men made 85 percent of the mean wage; in 2012, they earn only 58 percent of the mean wage.”

“The employment rate for young adults declined from 84 percent to 72 percent between 2000 and 2012.”

The study finds some good news:

1) Education still counts, even if not as much as a generation ago. “High school graduates’ full-time employment rate declined 13 percentage points between 2000 and 2012, compared to only 8 points for BA-holders.”

2) Where you live counts. “Between 75 percent and 80 percent of young people in certain metro areas are employed, compared to 70 percent nationally.”

The best places to live are bringing big advantages to their residents, with costs and earnings varying substantially from town to town.  For young adults trying to start in a career, where to live can be a critical decision.


Good news on the rare earths shortage

We need Lithium, Fluorite, Celestite, Pegmatites.
The Marines have helped find them for us.

A while back China’s virtual monopoly on the extraction of rare earths looked painful. These elements are critical to making ceramics, batteries, and magnets used in high-tech computer-controlled equipment. Think drones, fighter jets, smart phones, electric cars, things like that.

Rare earths in AfghanistanChina requires that foreign firms who need the materials set up shop to produce their products in China. They’ve also announced that they are ‘stockpiling’ the rare materials, i.e. reducing supply.

More recently, there’s been good news. US Marines have been shepherding geologists into remote corners of Afghanistan in a search for these minerals.

“These gutsy excursions . . . revealed a superlative cache of rare-earth elements – a coveted subset of critical minerals that have become essential to high-tech manufacturing and yet are in short supply in the US. The prized deposit is comparable to the premier site mined in China.”

According to Scientific American, rare earths aren’t the only mineral riches being discovered in the hills of Afghanistan.

“Vast deposits of copper and iron in the northeast near the nation’s capital, Kabul, are together worth hundreds of billions of dollars . . . including a massive iron ore deposit valued at $420 billion.”

Although the Administration is working hard today to get US forces out of Afghanistan, the chance for America to have access to these riches argues against leaving. There’s even speculation the underground riches could produce such a lucrative industry for the Afghanis that it would replace poppy-growing and lead the country into modern-day relations with the rest of the world.

Can money can do what arms could not?


Flood insurance – growing risks, subsidized premiums

Less than 1 in 5 homeowners in a flood zone have it.
And it’s a bargain.

FEMA revised America’s flood maps recently, dramatically expanding the 100-year flood plain. In New York state, they doubled the number of homes in the danger zone. If climate change operates as predicted, they may expand it again in a few years.

FEMA flood maps show danger areasThe risk to your family’s home’s is easy to check. Just go to the FEMA map center and choose your location. Colors and codes indicate the various areas of flood risk, from none to huge

Want to look further into the future? There’s an attempt using Google Maps to show flooding at various levels of storm surge or sea level rise. The data are not very accurate, for several reasons, but they will give you an idea where you might not want to own property during the predicted hurricane-driven high tides of the coming decade.

Want to see what major American cities look like after a one-meter rise in sea-level? There are some sobering simulations. And if you worry about truly catastrophic sea level rise in the future, there are maps that show which, if any, of America’s coastal regions will remain after such an inundation.

Flood insurance could limit your family’s risks far more effectively than sandbags or sump pumps. Your homeowners policy says, ”. . . does not cover damage resulting from flood,” but insurance is offered by the National Flood Insurance Program. In fact most mortgage lenders require this coverage if the property lies in a flood zone.

Policies have been so cheap that Congress last summer raised the rates considerably. But cost still may be increasing more slowly than risk. And you don’t pay the full cost anyway. It’s subsidized by Federal taxpayers.

(And while you’re thinking of protecting you property from weather-related risks, consider protecting your investment portfolio too.)