What It Looks Like to Live on Just Social Security — (It’s Not Pretty)

What It Looks Like to Live on Just Social Security — (It’s Not Pretty)

Forty-three percent of respondents say they do not have any retirement savings according to a recent TSCL survey.  This sobering finding is actually a slight improvement from a 2017 estimate by the U.S. Government Accountability Office that said 47% of Americans don’t have any retirement savings.  What does trying to live on Social Security for all of your income look like?  Here’s a brief glimpse:

Michael H., a 70 - year old retiree who lives in rural central Virginia, still works odd jobs whenever he can find them.  For years he worked as a welder but never made much more than $11 per hour as robotic automation took over welding plants during his working years.

Due to the intellectual disabilities that he was born with, Mike can’t read, write, do math, or manage money.  He never had a job that offered a pension, nor was he able to put money into a retirement account.  But he never filed for disability.  Mike, who could understand simple spoken explanations, retired with his own Social Security benefit at his full retirement age (66) after learning just how much money the government would “keep” (reduce his benefit) if he retired any sooner than 66!

Now, at age 70, his health and cognitive disabilities have worsened, and the jobs that he can still do are very limited.  A recent doctor visit confirmed that he has lost most of the vision in one eye.  Mike and his wife who is also mildly disabled, depend on Michael’s Social Security check, which after deductions for his Medicare premiums is just $1,084 per month, for almost all of their income.

The couple routinely runs out of Social Security funds a week or two before the next check comes in.  While they own a tiny four room home, there’s never enough money for maintenance, heating or electricity.  The roof leaks. When they run out of their heating oil in winter, they use a wood stove.  When the hot water heater broke down in July it was weeks before the couple was able to replace it.  During that period, Mike’s wife went to stay with her daughter.  Mike stayed put and went without showers until he got the $550 together for a replacement water heater.

Located five miles out of town, transportation is a constant issue.  Mike’s 25 - year old truck recently stopped running.  For more than two weeks after Christmas, Mike did not have the $16 copay he needed for his 6 generic prescription drugs, which include a blood thinner, and Glucophage for his diabetes.  He couldn’t call his sister to ask her for help because he had no phone service, the truck wasn’t running, and his memory is so bad he couldn’t remember his sister’s phone number.

TSCL is working for families like Mike and every retiree to get legislation enacted that would provide a very modest boost in Social Security benefits and would strengthen the annual cost of living adjustment (COLA).  A bill that would boost Social Security benefits remains under consideration in the House and in the Senate.  An estimate for TSCL projects that the legislation would boost an average benefit of $1,460 by an additional $70 per month, ($840 per year) by the end of the first ten years alone, and would continue to grow every year thereafter.  In addition, legislation that would lower prescription drug, and out – of – pocket Medicare costs, recently passed in the House of Representatives, and the Senate is considering a similar bill.

You can help other older Americans when you, your friends and family, participate in TSCL’s Senior Surveys and contact Members of Congress.  Public opinion can help sway votes, strengthen Social Security benefits, and lower out-of-pocket health care costs.  Please take our annual Senior Survey at SeniorsLeague.org/2020survey.