17 Pros and Cons to Retiring in Pennsylvania

The State of Pennsylvania is the 5th most populous state in America, with 13 million residents. Over half of these residents live in the dense urban areas of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and the other half of the population is scattered across the more rural areas of the state. 

The following will summarize the top reasons 2 million retirees call Pennsylvania home, as well as provide some of the downsides you may want to consider before you call up a realtor and a moving truck. 

A photo of a gravel road. A red covered bridge can be seen in the back. Both sides of the road are lined with trees showing autumn foliage.

10 Benefits of Retiring in Pennsylvania – Pros

1. Cost of Living/Housing

Overall, the cost of living in Pennsylvania is 8% less than the national average, driven mostly by the fact cost of housing is 25% below the national average. The median home price in Pennsylvania is $234K versus $292K US average. Obviously, the price you pay for a home will vary widely from the inexpensive rural/mountain areas to the high-cost city areas.

2. Tax Breaks for Retirees

Pennsylvania has the 4th highest tax burden in the country, falling just ahead of the infamously high taxes of its neighbor New York. Thankfully for retirees, most of that tax burden falls only on the state’s working population. 

No Income Tax for Retirees: Pennsylvania is one of the few states that taxes its working population while doesn’t tax most retirement income (e.g. 401K, pension, IRA). 

Property Tax Rebates for Retirees: Pennsylvania has the 10th highest property taxes in the country but depending on your retirement income level, retirees may be able to get some of that property tax payment back via a tax rebate.

3. Decent Healthcare

Overall, Pennsylvania is ranked #12 in the nation for having the best healthcare and ranked #9 in the nation for hospital safety.

Just keep in mind that the state’s best hospitals are located in the more urban southern half of the state  (Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Allentown, Harrisburg, Lancaster, etc) so folks retiring in the rural/mountainous northern side of the state may have fewer options. 

4. Low Crime (Outside of the Cities)

Pennsylvania is a great option for retirees looking for a crime-free life. The state has nearly 300 cities (40% of the cities in the state) with near-zero violent and property crime each year. That gives you plenty of locations to choose from. 

Data and common sense should tell you to stay out of the big cities if you don’t want to live with crime.

A river cuts through two small mountain hills. The trees are in autumn foliage.

5. Access to the Great Outdoors

Pennsylvania’s name translates from Latin as “Penn’s Woods”, and for good reason: Pennsylvania has nearly 17 million acres of forested land, covering 58% of the state’s area. About 2 million of these forested acres are open to the public. 

The most popular outdoor activity in the state is hiking, with the state having over 10,000 miles of trails. These trails also support biking, horseback riding, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling. The forests also offer plenty of camping and hunting opportunities. 229 miles of the Appalachian Trail pass through the state, including some sections that are considered the easiest on the Trail to hike.

In addition to woods, Pennsylvania has 85,000 miles of rivers and thousands of lakes. More than 120 state parks are open to fishing. The most popular species are brook, rainbow, and brown trout. Also common are bass, catfish, pike, bluegills, and yellow perch.

These plentiful waterways offer endless opportunities for canoeing and kayaking. Much of the water is also large enough to support motor boating. Swimming is also offered in 35 state parks and scuba diving can be found in 20 state parks.

6. Sports Culture

Pennsylvania is a state that takes its sports seriously, ranking as the 4th best state for sports fans. It is one of just six states to have more than one professional sports market (Philadelphia and Pittsburgh). Pennsylvania has teams in all of the major professional sports leagues: baseball, basketball, football, hockey, and soccer. Folks not impressed by Pennsylvania pro sports may choose to follow teams in the adjacent sports markets of New York, Maryland, and Ohio. 

At the collegiate level, the state has 14 universities fielding teams in the NCAA Division I across all of the major team sports.

Pennsylvania is also the home of the international Little League Baseball World Series held in Williamsport. 

7. Craft Beer, Pretzels, Potato Chips, and Ice Cream

It is a little-known fact that Pennsylvania produces the largest quantities of craft beer in the country, with its 354 breweries producing nearly 4 million barrels of craft beer each year.

The state also makes 80% of the pretzels in the country, led by big names like Snyders(Hanover), Auntie Anne’s (Lancaster), and Philadelphia Pretzel Factor (Philly). 

Pennsylvania has the highest number of potato chip companies in the country, such as Bickel’s, Herr’s, Martin’s, Snyder’s, Utz, and more.

Finally, Pennsylvania is the second-largest ice cream producer in the country and has 31 independent creameries.

8. Top-Rates Towns of Chesterbrook and Penn Wynne

The town of Chesterbrook, a suburb of Philadelphia, has received some impressive rankings:

  • #1 Best Places to Live in America
  • #1 Best Places to Raise a Family in America
  • #1 Best Suburbs to Live in America
  • #1 Best Suburbs to Raise a Family in America
  • Top 15% Best Places to Retire in America

The town of Penn Wynne, just 20 miles southeast of Chesterbrook, shares similar accolades, ranking around #3 in the country in the above categories.

Of course, the best places don’t come cheap and you’ll find the housing prices to be double the Pennsylvania average and 40% higher than the national averages ($391K versus $291K). 

A close up photo of two cross-country ski sitting on a snowy path.

9. Winter Sports

If you are going to spend winters in the cold and snow of Pennsylvania (Con #11), then you might as well embrace winter sports. Though not as popular as the New England area, Pennsylvania is home to 22 ski resorts. When the snow covers the state park hiking trails, residents bring out their snowmobiles, cross-country skis, and even their dog sleds. The lakes that offer excellent summertime fishing continue to produce a variety of species under the ice.

10. Historical Sites

As a retiree, you will have plenty of time to visit the many historical sites located in the state. Pennsylvania is home to 19 national parks, many of which are centered on the rich history of the state. Key historic locations include:

  • Philadelphia: America’s first capital, birthplace of the Declaration of Independence, home of the Liberty Bell, and much more.
  • Gettysburg: A critical battle in the Civil War and famous for Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address 
  • Farmington: The location of Fort Necessity where a young George Washington battled the French during the French & Indian War
  • Valley Forge: Where Washington and his Revolutionary army lived during the winter of 1777

7 Downsides of Retiring in Pennsylvania – Cons

Now we will examine some reasons the Keystone State may not be the best choice for new retirees.

A photo of a forest, covered in snow, trees bending due to the weight of the snow.

11. Winters

Pennsylvania winters are cold, with low temperatures often dropping into the teens. With mountains and proximity to the Great Lakes, snow is common in the state. Pennsylvania averages 38 inches of snow per year versus the US average of 28 inches. This snow may be nice for the snow resorts (Pro #9) but it may not be enjoyable for retirees.

12. Inheritance Tax

Pennsylvania is known for its beneficial tax treatment of retirees (Pro #2) but, unfortunately, those tax benefits are not passed along to heirs. Wealth passed to heirs is taxed by the state at rates up to 15%. Retirees in Pennsylvania should carefully plan their estate to minimize the impact of this inheritance tax on their heirs. 

13. Lack of Diversity

The overall demographics of Pennsylvania are:

  • 77% White
  • 11% Black
  • 7% Hispanic
  • 3% Asian
  • 2% Other

However, most of this diversity comes from the city of Philadelphia and its surrounding areas. In 58 of the state’s 61 counties, the White demographic constitutes 90% or more of the population. 

14. Traffic 

Retirees will be thankful they do not have to make the daily commute anymore because the state of Pennsylvania ranks as the 6th worst state for drivers. The traffic problem not only impacts the obvious areas like Philadelphia and Pittsburg, but smaller towns also face congestion problems.

15. Bad Roads

Perhaps traffic wouldn’t be so bad (Con #14) if Pennsylvania invested more in its road. The state ranks as having the 5th worst roads in the country, with 30% of its roads in poor conditions and 18 bridges structurally deficient.

16. Air Pollution

Pennsylvania may have a reputation for offering great outdoor activities (Pro #7), but the air you will breathe while doing those activities may not be the best. Pennsylvania ranks as the 11th worst state in the country for its air pollution. The Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and even Lancaster areas rank in the Top 10% of worst air quality. 

While it is easy to blame vehicle traffic (Con #14) for this pollution, the truth is most of the air quality issues come from the state’s six coal-burning power plants, which burn coal harvested from the coal mines of Pennsylvania. 

A photo of a steaming nuclear reactor

17. Nuclear Power Plants

In 1979, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania was the location of the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, which was the largest nuclear accident in America’s history. That plant is still in operation today, along with two more nuclear plants outside of Philadelphia. Anyone moving to southeastern Pennsylvania must become accustomed to regular nuclear siren tests and emergency drills. The chance of another nuclear accident occurring is very small, but you should be at least aware of the risks.

Related: 17 Pros and Cons of Living in New York City