High inflation is leading to the biggest raise in Social Security in decades Retirees and others who rely on Social Security will see a large boost in benefits next year, with the average benefit rising by $141 per month, as inflation stays above 8%.

High inflation leads to the biggest raise in Social Security in more than 40 years

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One group of Americans is getting a big pay raise next year - retirees and others who depend on Social Security. Starting in January, benefit checks will go up by 8.7%, or about $141 a month. This is on average. The increase is designed to keep pace with soaring prices, and this news comes as we learn that annual inflation in September was 8.2%. Here's NPR's Scott Horsley.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Tulsa retiree Lynn Christophersen relies almost entirely on Social Security to pay her bills. She's worried about the rising price of gasoline, and her electric bill has been going up as well.

LYNN CHRISTOPHERSEN: I quit using my dryer today. I'm back to hanging up my clothes in my apartment. And I've heard rumors that it's going up again. Then it was like, good grief.

HORSLEY: Just yesterday, the Energy Department warned that electric heating bills will likely be 10% higher this winter than last. For families who heat with natural gas, the increase could be 28%. Rent gobbles up much of Christophersen's monthly income. She lives in a two-bedroom apartment in a Tulsa senior community. She's worried that before long she'll have to downsize.

CHRISTOPHERSEN: I just got my rent increase notice Tuesday, and it's another $100 a month.

HORSLEY: Luckily, Social Security benefits will also be going up come January. The annual increase is automatic, pegged to inflation the previous July, August and September. Most years, when prices are stable, it's a trivial adjustment. Now, though, with prices climbing rapidly, Christophersen is about to get the biggest cost of living adjustment in decades.

CHRISTOPHERSEN: Wow, that's huge. That will make a difference.

HORSLEY: More than 65 million people will see their benefits increase, including disabled workers and survivors, as well as retirees. Bill List, who retired four years ago in Pennsylvania, notes it's a significantly bigger income boost than the typical worker is getting.

BILL LIST: I always used to say when I was working, people on Social Security always get referred to as being on a fixed income, but they're the only group in the country that is not on a fixed income. They at least get a COLA, whereas a lot of people in the working world - it depends on how the business is doing whether they get a raise or not.

HORSLEY: Social Security benefits still aren't all that generous. The average retiree currently receives about $1,625 a month. Kathleen Romig, who's with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, notes that for about 1 in 5 seniors, Social Security is pretty much their only source of income. So keeping pace with inflation is crucial.

KATHLEEN ROMIG: This is one way that we can be sure that they can afford their housing costs and their food costs and other important necessities in their lives.

HORSLEY: Retirees who don't have to commute every day are typically less sensitive to rising gasoline prices, but they do have to buy groceries. Miriam Garcia, a retiree in Florida, has cut back on buying fresh salmon, even though she says it's good for you and better than taking pills.

MIRIAM GARCIA: So now I'm eating canned tuna (laughter) or pasta and sauce and then a piece of chicken that I've bought when it was on sale.

HORSLEY: Garcia's retirement savings have also taken a hit from the falling stock market. Social Security recipients lost ground this year because the cost of living increase they got in January, 5.9%, was no match for the inflation that followed. Bill List is optimistic buying power will be stronger in the year ahead.

LIST: If we get a better-than-average increase in January this year and inflation at least doesn't go up any further, we should be OK.

HORSLEY: A lot of people are hoping inflation will cool off soon. But while prices for some things like used cars have come down, other prices continue to climb. And Federal Reserve officials have cautioned their efforts to slow inflation with higher interest rates will take time to bear fruit.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington.


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