That sizeable increase—the biggest bump seen in nearly forty years—is slated to boost retirees’ monthly payments by approximately $90 to an estimated average of $1,657. A typical couple’s benefits will climb by about $150 to $2,754 per month. Do take note that last year, the COLA came in at 1.3 percent, which only gave an average of $20 boost to the monthly Social Security checks.
Falling Behind Even with a Social Security COLA Increase?
However, while the nearly 6-percent boost might seem great on paper, citizen advocacy groups are adamant that many seniors will continue to fall behind amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and high-inflationary environment.
“While it’s welcome, too many people receiving Social Security are not treading water. They’re going underwater,” Nancy Altman, one of the nation’s top Social Security experts and co-founder of Social Security Works, told KDKA.
She added that the cost-of-living formula tapped into by the government each year doesn’t reflect the real costs that ordinary Americans face each and every day.
“When you use the cost-of-living adjustment for workers, you’re under measuring and that’s why they’ve been eroding over time,” Altman contended.
“The base benefit by virtually any standard is inadequate in terms of absolute amount, about $1,500 a month average, which means an awful lot of people receive less than that. In terms of the replacement of your wages while you were working to maintain your standard of living, 30 percent or 40 percent on average, again not adequate by international standards,” she continued.
Similar sentiments were shared by Mary Johnson, the Social Security and Medicare policy analyst for the Senior Citizens League.
“While the high COLA is welcome, we have received hundreds of emails from retired and disabled Social Security recipients who say that the low COLAs in recent years have not kept pace with their rising costs. That has made it more difficult for many to cope with the rampant inflation of 2021,” she told CNN.
“The COLA is paying for inflation from last year—not for future years,” she added.
The seniors group noted that since 2000, Social Security benefits have lost approximately 30 percent of their purchasing power due to adjustments that have vastly underestimated inflation and fast-rising health care costs.
Reliance on Social Security
The low payouts have become even more pronounced as more Americans rely solely on Social Security benefits to cover their financial needs during their retirement years. About 20 percent of married couples and 40 percent of singles receive at least 90 percent of their income from the Social Security program, according to the Social Security Administration.
“A growing share of Americans are depending on Social Security for all or most of their income in retirement,” Daniel Adcock, director of government relations and policy for the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, told KDKA.
“We used to think of retirement as a three-legged stool. But for a lot of Americans, it’s become a one-legged pedestal with Social Security being the only source,” he continued.
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Washington state-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.