The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated many of the issues faced by Social Security, which provides at least 70% of income for about one in six seniors. About 45% of Black seniors and 52% of Latino seniors rely on Social Security for all or most of their income. Social Security will be solvent through 2037, according to experts.
High reliance on Social Security for the wellbeing of the elderly is typical regardless of sex, race or state of residence. Nationally, the median recipient at age 65 over-relies on Social Security for 67% of their income. But this economic reality isn’t just relevant for today’s older adults. All Americans should ask: What will a compromised Social Security or Medicare program, or the absence of a meaningful pension, mean for me when I retire?
Older adults have been disproportionately harmed by the recent financial crisis. According to the National Council on Aging, more than 23 million Americans age 60-plus are living on $27,925 or less per year. Meanwhile, the Social Security and Medicare programs are under attack. If weakened, these programs would put more costs on the backs of seniors and renege on the promise of a safety net.
Retirees may be suffering from inflation sticker-shock everywhere —from the grocery store to the gas pump. Those rising prices could mean an even higher Social Security cost-of-living adjustment next year. A preliminary estimate from The Senior Citizens League, a non-partisan senior group, finds the 2023 cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, could be as high as 7.6% based on the latest Consumer Price Index data. In comparison, the Social Security COLA for 2022 in January was 5.9%, the highest bump in 40 years.
The League also found the 5.9% COLA for 2022 is falling short. And when SSI rates increase, Medicare, HMOs and other programs raise the fees taken directly out of monthly checks. The recent bump was offset by an increase in Medicare. As medical costs increase, this pattern will continue.
The average retiree benefit is around $1,564, according to The League. But to accommodate for an 8.6% year-over-year increase in the Consumer Price Index, the benefit would have to be $1,699.
To shore up the program, lawmakers have a choice of increasing taxes on benefits, raising payroll taxes and/or increasing the retirement age.
“An increase in the full retirement age is just a benefit cut,” said Joe Elsasser, founder and president of Covisum, a provider of Social Security claiming software.
Social Security advocates are staunchly against tweaking retirement ages. All of us are seniors-in-waiting. As a nation, we need to be forward-thinking about policies and practices that will allow Americans to retire and live with dignity and economic security. But seniors need to be proactive. Write or call your congressman and senator to voice your concerns over present and future SSI changes.
Al Brandenburg is a member of Maricopa Community Advocates.
This column was first published in the June edition of InMaricopa magazine.