Tiny rise in Social Security benefits hardly helps seniors stay afloat

1.7% increase barely aids those who worked to build America

ColumnistOctober 17, 2012 

— On Wednesday, all those people 62 and older found out that Social Security benefits will go up an average of $19 a month next year.

There was something less than whoops around Rock Hill from these tough old people who worked so long and so hard, as that raise comes to about 75 cents a day.

Katie McCrorey, a 65-year-old widow who worked in a factory all her life, sat outside her apartment Wednesday and reminded anybody that for two of the last three years, there was no Social Security raise at all during the worst economy in a lifetime.

These are the same seniors who face rising food and utility bills, even as these people who do not spend what they do not have steam in summer and shiver in winter.

The government calls the raise a cost of living adjustment.

Katie McCrorey, well, she adjusts all right. She has adjusted to trying to make it each month with just enough to eat.

“Social Security is all I have,” McCrorey said. “Plus $16 a month in food stamps. If I make a few dollars more a month, I will probably lose it and more in my rent going up and other costs. I got about $36 more this year in Social Security, but because I made more, my rent was higher.

“Nobody will have an extra dollar in their pocket after this.”

In the same building lives Joe Irving, 83, who worked construction all his life. He stretches Social Security, his only income, like a blanket over cold feet.

“The only way is to buy what you need, not what you want,” Irving said. “That little bit they want to raise us isn’t near what it costs people to try and survive.”

Wednesday’s newspaper brought far more important news for any senior citizen than politicians who debated Tuesday night and barely mentioned Social Security. Wednesday is the day the weekly circular comes out for any grocery chain.

Older people pull out the insert, look at what is on sale, then figure out how to stretch Social Security.

Out from a grocery store on Rock Hill’s East Main Street came Sandra Tedder, who turns 73 in less than a month. She’s retired; her husband is retired. They worked forever, both of them.

“Store specials, coupons, I shop a bargain,” Tedder said. “Everything has gone up; $19 a month Social Security is going up? Nothing you pay for comes down. That’s not a raise.”

Tedder stopped.

“Buy one get one free, I shop those, too,” she said.

Tedder said her husband’s pension, plus their combined Social Security, keeps them afloat.

“But I don’t know how some older people make it through a month on Social Security,” she said. “If it wasn’t for Medicare and insurance, we’d both be working at Walmart right now.”

Loading up a few bags of groceries filled with what was on sale was Peggy Melton, who said it is just her getting by on Social Security. She spoke for millions when she said, “I buy just what I need and what I can afford.”

The $19 raise per month is an average. For those people who made less – workers in the South historically have made less than the national average – or maybe worked off the books in farming or service jobs, the raise will be even less.

Social Security is an earned payment. People get a monthly check because workers paid into it, for years and decades.

Politicians talk about these people – and maybe changing Social Security that is all that separates tens of millions of Americans from abject poverty and starvation – as if they are statistics, not people who stood working on aching feet for 40 or 50 years.

Any president or politician who dares try to alter Social Security will get, and should get, a revolt from senior citizens.

At the Rock Hill senior center, 71-year-old Brenda Parker, who worked in textile mills her whole life, said a raise in Social Security can affect other benefits that these tough, hard-working people paid for, too.

Senior income that reaches too high – and too high is not high at all – can force higher co-pays for Medicare, increases in rent if rent is based on income, and more.

“Some people might lose money by getting money,” said Parker.

Lunch at the senior center costs $1.50. If a person chose to eat there every weekday, the Social Security raise for the month wouldn’t cover the beef stew and roll and potato.

These seniors know that $19 a month after two out of three years without even a single dollar of a raise won’t dent the bills that arrive in the mail.

In one of the senior center rooms is a pool table. The game Wednesday was eight-ball, two-man teams.

Sumter Mitchell, 73, who worked in a slaughterhouse and for the city of Rock Hill, lined up a shot. He missed the pocket by a clear foot.

He said the Social Security raise has been “the talk of the center today.” Tuesday’s presidential debate was not the talk of the center.

“That’s because Social Security is all I have,” Mitchell said. “All I got and all most people my age got. But we worked for it. Nobody gave us a thing. We earned that.”

Shedrick Jackson, 70, a retired insurance man, gets by on Social Security. Same for retired textile mill worker Cecil McClain, 75, and retired auto body man Frank Jones, 76. Each gets Social Security that is all the income to make it.

“I’ll tell you anybody our age is scuffling,” said Jones. He took a shot and missed by three miles. Work all your life, there is not much time to practice pool. Each player missed shots, often.

“$19 a month,” said Henry Jones. “Tough to get off the scuffle with that.”

Andrew Dys 803-329-4065 adys@heraldonline.com

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