Working, able bodied Americans may find it hard to make “ends meet”, sacrificing luxuries even when they live well above the national poverty guideline.  Disabled Americans, who are unable to depend on a steady paycheck, rely on monthly social security disability benefits.  Unfortunately, even with the increase slated to begin in 2014, social security recipients struggle to live off of their benefits alone.  The cost of living, even for those who are forced to live “simple”, is much higher than many Americans are able to afford.  While social security benefits are vital for many to live, many “everyday living essentials” are sacrificed, just to make the benefits stretch throughout the month; until the next check comes along.

Are Fixed Incomes Enough?  Living Off Of Social Security

One Recipient of Many, Just Trying to Get By

Meet Social Security recipient, 64 year old Gilroy Hain, who used to have a job in the aerospace industry and managed to make a decent living wage until he reached his 50s until financial troubles started.  The Los Angeles resident discovered that as he got older, there were fewer jobs available and as a result, Hain was forced to live off of his small 401(k) account.  When the money ran out, Hain faced life on the streets.  Social Security benefits turned out to be Hain’s saving grace as he was able to rent the small room he calls home.  His social security check of $1,500 a month is more than what some recipients receive, but Hain is forced to keep life simple after rent, groceries, and other “everyday essentials” are taken care of.  Hain cannot afford to own a car, cannot afford health insurance, and doesn’t have many furnishings in his rented room; yet he considers himself lucky.  In January of 2014, many Social Security recipients can expect a 1.5% increase in their benefits.  The increase is a welcome relief for some, but is it enough to live?

A Cost of Living Case Study: Raleigh, NC

According to statistics presented by MIT, a household consisting of one childless adult, in Raleigh, NC, would need to make about $18,804 in order to pay for “typical expenses”.  The breakdown of “typical expenses” per month is as followed:

Food: $242                                          Other: $69

Child Care: $0                                     Required Monthly Income After Taxes: $1, 228

Medical: $117                                    Required Annual Income After Taxes: $15,456

Housing: $542                                    Annual Taxes: $3, 348

Transportation: $318                      Required Annual Income BEFORE Taxes: $18,804

Consider a full-time worker who works approximately 2,080 hours per year, in order to make a “living wage” he must make $9.04 per hour.  A full-time minimum wage worker would make $15,080 before taxes, while a full-time worker, living at the poverty line, would only make $5.21 per hour.  Depending on job availability and skill sets, many people are forced to work low paying jobs which leave them close to, at, or under the national poverty line.  According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the poverty guideline for a household of one equals $11,490.

Examining the typical monthly expenses for an adult in Raleigh, NC, a social security recipient, living in Raleigh, would most likely not be able to have or pay for “typical” monthly items such as transportation or medical care.  According to the Social Security Administration, the average Social Security monthly payment is $1,132.  Because Social Security benefits are based on a number of things, it’s important to know the difference between SSDI and SSI.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits are based on the amount of your average lifetime earnings (that were insured under Social Security).  Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits are based on a recipient’s financial needs in regards to income, resources and living situation.

Is Social Security Enough?

While the cost of living for each city is different, a recipient receiving a check for the average Social Security benefit amount equaling about $13,584 per year, would be slightly above the national poverty line for a household of one, but well below the Living Wage in most cities.  So like Hain, some recipients will need to sacrifice and cut corners just to be able to afford food, shelter and other essentials.   The small promised increase of 1.5% will do little to boost the financial needs for many Social Security recipients, leaving many to continue to scrimp, save, and miss out on “everyday luxuries”.  Life can change suddenly, leaving many formerly financially independent citizens requesting and requiring financial assistance.  If you needed to depend on Social Security, how much would you need to simplify your life, just to live?