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‘It’s really about time’: Spokane retirees react to Social Security’s largest benefit increase in nearly 40 years

UPDATED: Wed., Oct. 13, 2021

This photo shows a Social Security card in Tigard, Ore. Millions of retirees on Social Security will get a 5.9% boost in benefits for 2022. The biggest cost-of-living adjustment in 39 years follows a burst in inflation as the economy struggles to shake off the drag of the coronavirus pandemic.  (Jenny Kane)
This photo shows a Social Security card in Tigard, Ore. Millions of retirees on Social Security will get a 5.9% boost in benefits for 2022. The biggest cost-of-living adjustment in 39 years follows a burst in inflation as the economy struggles to shake off the drag of the coronavirus pandemic. (Jenny Kane)

Kermit Shaull said he can’t remember the last time gas and food cost so much.

Shaull, a retired 79-year-old Spokane resident, said his monthly payments from Social Security helped pay the bills, but lately the rise in cost at the store for basic items – meat, canned goods and eggs – was at the forefront of his mind.

“You can hardly buy beef anymore, it’s gone up so much,” Shaull said. “Everything has gone up.”

Larger Social Security checks are on the way for 68 million Americans like Shaull. The Social Security Administration announced Wednesday it would raise benefits by 5.9% in 2022 amid the release of a government report showing national inflation had spiked in the last year.

The annual cost of living adjustment (COLA) is set by the Social Security Administration and often matches changes in the consumer price index, which went up by 5.4% since September 2020, according to a report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Between August 2021 and September 2021, inflation was reported at 0.4%, the report said. Food and shelter accounted for half of the rise in costs.

Shaull retired about 10 years ago and collects monthly checks of roughly $1,400 from the Social Security Administration, which makes up most of his income for the month, he said. The increase would add about $80 a month for the retiree.

“It’s really about time,” Shaull said. “They’ve been needing to do that for a while.”

Nearly every member of the Southside Senior Community Center receives – and sometimes heavily relies on – Social Security payments for income post-retirement, said Lisa Rosier, the center’s executive director.

“They have contributed to it all their life,” Rosier said. “It’s something we all contribute to because we’re all going to be getting older, and it’s a way to pay for the services we all will need.”

Not since 1982 has there been a larger increase in benefits, according to data from the Social Security Administration. That year, the COLA was pegged at 7%, and until 2008, these yearly adjustments never exceeded 5%. Between 2008 and now, the COLA hovered between 1% and 3%.

Although she does not get Social Security checks, Rosier said, she has also noticed higher prices for food, utility bills and insurance.

As people reach retirement age, Rosier said, it can be difficult to get access to basic items, especially if they are not affordable.

“More and more are having a tough time when they come into retirement,” Rosier said.

Janet Mantz, 87, a member at the Southside Senior Community Center, said several of her friends at the center rely on the benefits for income, so she said the increase in benefits was “definitely something I’m in support of.”

Mantz said she does not depend on her Social Security checks as her main source of income because of her investments and retirement plan, but she has also noticed the rise in costs at stores and restaurants.

“I’m not a big spender, I don’t really go out, but everything at the grocery store is so expensive now,” Mantz said. “It’s definitely something I’ve seen this last year.”

Nine out of 10 Americans 65 and older received Social Security benefits as of December 2020, according to a fact sheet from the Social Security Administration. Among beneficiaries, 37% of men and 42% of women receive at least half of their income from Social Security, the fact sheet said. About 13.5% of all beneficiaries rely on Social Security for at least 90% of their income.

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