Benefit Bulletin: How Inflation Is Taking a Toll on Older Americans

Benefit Bulletin: How Inflation Is Taking a Toll on Older Americans

Edward Cates, Chairman of the Board, TSCL

Your participation in our online surveys drew widespread attention in 2022. Journalists used the findings of our surveys to publicize our growing concern that inflation has pushed more seniors into poverty and threatening the income stability of all retired and disabled Social Security recipients. No findings drew greater interest than our question that asks, “Which of the following financial actions have you taken over the past 12 months?”

Journalists were able to see the erosion in finances that occurred between late summer and early fall of 2021 and the first three months of 2022. Our late summer results in 2022 show a pattern of a lower percentage of people who reported filing for low -income assistance programs. But that was not caused by an improvement in buying power since prices were continuing to spiral upward at the time of this survey. What these results point to instead is how many of our survey participants have been impacted by adjustments and trims to low-income benefits as an impact of the 5.9% Social Security cost of living adjustment in 2022.

Which of the following financial actions have you taken over the past 12 months?

(Survey participants were told to check all that apply.)

Responses from: Retirement Survey 2021 and 2022; Senior Survey 2022

Our new summer survey asked a key question to explore whether the 5.9% COLA did, in fact, lead to benefit adjustments and trims. Many of our respondents said yes. We found that 38% of those who said they received low-income assistance in 2021 reported adjustments to benefits in 2022, and 16% reported that, because their income was so close to the eligibility line, their COLA made them ineligible for at least one benefit program. TSCL was able to report this to the media this fall, thanks to your participation in our summer survey, and to show data suggesting that more seniors may be falling into poverty. Now new U.S. Census Bureau data for 2021 confirms that more seniors were indeed pushed into poverty in 2021, the most recent year for which our federal government has data. TSCL expects this trend to continue as the impact of inflation in 2022 becomes better understood.

This information is important because it helps Congress better understand the scope of the needs of older Americans, to craft legislation that addresses these problems, and to establish appropriate funding levels. Your survey responses matter, and they have a long reach. The top question that journalists and Members of Congress want to know is “What we are hearing from seniors?”  This year, they wanted to know what we were learning about inflation’s impact on older Americans.

Please take time to participate in these surveys. Even if you have answered the same question before, know that your input is getting attention and having an impact! Take TSCL’s new 2023 Senior Survey at