Elder Index Shows Limits of Social Security to Help Older Adults Afford Basic Cost of Living

Jan MutchlerSocial Security is a critical economic resource for most older Americans but those payments don’t cover even a bare-bones budget in a single county in the United States.

The degree to which Social Security payments can help elders make ends meet depends both on individual circumstances and basic geography. An updated analysis, using the Elder Index™ developed at UMass Boston’s Gerontology Institute, recently examined Social Security’s ability to cover basic elder expenses in every U.S. county and state.

“Social Security is incredibly important to older Americans as an economic safety net but it doesn’t fully cover the cost of living anywhere,” said Professor Jan Mutchler. “The effectiveness of that safety net varies a great deal across the county and among individuals. In many cases, it falls far short.” Continue reading

Holes in the Safety Net: Social Security and the True Cost of Living for Seniors

Older Americans in every part of the country depend on Social Security benefits to help make ends meet. But just how far do those payments go toward covering the basic cost of living?

The answer varies a great deal on the personal circumstances of individuals. But it also depends significantly upon where seniors live, according to Jan Mutchler, a UMass Boston professor who leads the Gerontology Institute’s Center for Social & Demographic Research on Aging.

This is an important economic issue for seniors because Social Security provides such a large portion of total income for most beneficiaries. A third of those beneficiaries receive 90 percent of their income from Social Security. Three of every five depend on the benefit for at least half of their income.

Mutchler analyzed U.S. data on expenses and Social Security payments to determine the percentage of living costs covered by those benefits on a county by county basis. Along with co-authors Yang Li and Ping Xu, she recently published the findings in the Journal of Aging & Social Policy. Continue reading

Institute Talk: Peter Diamond on Social Security

Nobel laureate Peter Diamond has a message for everyone worried about the future of Social Security. He knows exactly how you feel.

“This is a vital program and it’s really important that we preserve, in my mind, the basic structure,” Diamond said at a March 9 event hosted by the Pension Action Center at McCormack Graduate School of the University of Massachusetts Boston.

But the problem is as serious as it is clear. The Social Security Trust Funds are projected to run out of money and there’s a 50 percent chance that will happen by the end of 2034. A depleted fund would mean a benefit cut of more than 20 percent and forecasts beyond that are pessimistic.

Diamond, an Institute Professor Emeritus at MIT, pointed to the past as a guide to possible policy options ahead. All of them had been tried – or at least discussed – in previous negotiations to solve Social Security funding problems. Twice in the 1970s and again in 1983, legislation employed many of them to temporarily shore up the program.

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