Alexandria, VA: One out of three Social Security recipients, about 31 percent, say they rely entirely on Social Security for all of their income, according to a new survey from The Senior Citizens League (TSCL). With Social Security benefits averaging $1,220 per month, this means an estimated 19 million retirees[i] are living at or below 125% of the federal poverty level. “These findings illustrate the rapidly growing need to provide better economic security for today’s older Americans,” says TSCL Chairman Ed Smith.
TSCL’s survey of nearly 1,200 people who receive Social Security and Medicare benefits also found that one quarter of respondents were struggling with growing credit card debt — most often due to medical expenses. “Because most older Americans are less likely to be working or to find jobs, those who rely solely on Social Security for income are often forced to put medical and other living expenses on credit cards,” Cates says. “This is an insidiously expensive way to carry debt, that’s often quite difficult for older consumers to pay off,” Cates notes.
TSCL is warning that senior household budget problems are expected to compound next year. The Social Security Trustees recently confirmed TSCL’s earlier projection that there may not be any annual cost – of – living adjustment (COLA) in 2016, because inflation is so low. While retirees won’t find out about the COLA until October, the majority is already struggling to cope with Medicare costs that are climbing again after several years of slow growth. “Any increase in the premiums and out-of-pocket costs of Medicare health plans, Medigap supplements, and Part D plans will shrink Social Security benefits,” Cates says.
TSCL supports legislation that would provide greater retirement security by indexing Social Security benefits to the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly (CPI-E). In most years that index would provide COLA recipients with slightly higher boosts. According to CPI-E data through July 2015, the CPI-E would yield a COLA of 0.8 % versus ZERO based on the current law methodology that uses the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W).
“The CPI-E would provide more retirement security when older Americans need it the most,” says Cates. According to a TSCL comparison of COLAs calculated using the CPI-W versus the CPI-E over a 25 year retirement period, people retiring with average benefits in 2015 would receive about $70 per month more by the end of 18 years, and $113 more per month after 25 years using the CPI-E.
To provide more secure benefits and strengthen Social Security, TSCL surveys indicate that the majority of older Americans support raising the maximum taxable earnings so that high income earners pay taxes on all earnings over $118,500. To learn what you can do to take action and to sign up for TSCL’s free online newsletter The Social Security & Medicare Advisor, visit www.SeniorsLeague.org.
With about 1 million supporters, The Senior Citizens League is one of the nation's largest nonpartisan seniors groups. Located just outside Washington, D.C., its mission is to promote and assist members and supporters, to educate and alert senior citizens about their rights and freedoms as U.S. Citizens, and to protect and defend the benefits senior citizens have earned and paid for. The Senior Citizens League is a proud affiliate of TREA The Enlisted Association. Please visit www.SeniorsLeague.org or call 1-800-333-8725 for more information.
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[i] Social Security Administration, monthly statistical snapshot, data through June 2015, http://www.socialsecurity.gov/policy/docs/quickfacts/stat_snapshot/index.html.