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Elderly Say 2.6 Percent Hike OK - If You’ve Got Other Means

October 16, 1993

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) _ Ross Lethbridge remembers when his monthly Social Security check was only $85.

So, with the average check now more than 7 1/2 times that much, he doesn’t care that the government’s latest Social Security cost-of-living adjustment will mean an average of only another $17 each month.

The 2.6 percent COLA adjustment, which takes effect Jan. 3, is the second- lowest increase since Social Security began making the annual adjustments 18 years ago.

″That’s a lot of money. Social Security is a remarkable and wonderful thing,″ the 93-year-old retired dentist said. ″You can imagine how much more I’ve taken out than I put in.″

To get a monthly income today of about $650, the average benefit, a person would have to invest $250,000 at 3 percent interest, Lethbridge said.

But the increase will not take up the slack for many retirees whose income from savings has been reduced by the lowest interest rates in more than two decades.

It’s also bad news for people who rely on Social Security alone, said one of Lethbridge’s neighbors at St. Joseph’s John Knox Village, a retirement community of 650.

″If all you have to live on is your Social Security, a 2 percent increase would hurt,″ said Edith Stevens, a retired school teacher.

And for many lower-income retirees, a $4.50 a-month hike in Medicare Part B premiums will offset the increase.

Because of the struggling economy, inflation has remained tame in recent years, resulting in relatively small benefit increases. They amounted to just 3 percent in 1992 and 3.7 percent in 1991, compared with 14.3 percent in 1980 and 11.2 percent in 1981 when inflation was rampant.

The lowest increase was 1.3 percent in 1987.

Prices have been rising at a rate of 2.5 percent this year.

″I’m just thankful that we don’t have higher inflation,″ said George Gill, a retired bank vice president. ″I would be unhappy if our cost of living had gone up 10 percent and we were only getting 2.6 percent more.″

Widow Grace Allen said she appreciates whatever more comes in her Social Security check to help balance the shrinking return on her certificate of deposit.

Helen Amhrein, 75, a retired U.S. Department of Agriculture worker, gets less than the current average of $657 each month.

″I don’t think a $17 increase is that bad, but I have a family that backs me up,″ said the mother of six. ″You take what you get.″

″Most of us here have other income and no complaints,″ Lethbridge agreed.

The economic status of senior Americans has improved over the past 30 years. Yet 12.9 percent of the country’s elderly still live in poverty, said Horace D. Deets, executive director of the American Association of Retired Persons.

The 2.6 percent increase will raise the average benefit for a widow or widower, living alone, from $615 to $631. For a disabled worker, benefits would go from $625 to $641, the Social Security Administration said.

A disabled worker with a family would get $28 more, for a $1,092 monthly benefit, and an aged couple would get $29 more a month, or $1,140.

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