When Nancy Francis thinks about living in Tampa Bay, she pictures her neighbors’ teeth.
They pass with closed smiles in the hallways of Peterborough Apartments, a low-income senior housing complex in downtown St. Petersburg.
But when they talk, she sees gaps in their gums, the missing canines pulled because they were unable to afford dental care.
“It’s not good for old people, especially in our income group,” said Francis, 79, as she and her friend, Leni Daniels, sat in the apartment’s dog park. “This apartment is the end of the road for us. Costs have gotten worse every year.”
Social Security recipients are getting a huge boost in their benefits next year — the highest cost-of-living bump in more than 40 years.
But Francis wondered: Will it make a dent in her neighbor’s medical costs, or the credit card debt she’s accrued to pay for groceries?
The federal government announced Thursday that Social Security recipients will receive an 8.7% boost in their benefits in 2023. The cost-of-living adjustment — which is calculated each year to account for rising inflation — means beneficiaries will receive an average of $140 more monthly starting in January.
But retirees remain skeptical of whether that’s enough to offset rising costs in Tampa Bay.
“It’s not really a raise,” said Daniels, 72. “Everything else has gone up, so it’s comparable, if anything.”
Costs are climbing everywhere in the U.S. But Tampa Bay’s prices have outpaced the national average. Area prices rose by roughly 11% in the past year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, compared to 9% nationally.
At the Sunshine Center, a senior center in St. Petersburg, Thelma Houston, 98, said she isn’t sure if the bump will be enough to supplement her increasingly expensive medications.
Ross Tarr, 81, a resident of Lutheran Apartments, another low-income senior building downtown, is certain the adjustment won’t cover his housing costs.
“It always runs behind. A more accurate amount would have been about 9.5%,” he said. “My rent has gone up 25% in two years.”
Social Security’s cost-of-living adjustment, known as COLA, relies on a formula based on the Labor Department’s Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers, which looks at rising costs for working people, not retirees.
Older adults may experience inflation differently, as they tend to spend more money on housing and health care and less on transportation.
“The standard is somewhat irrelevant for people on Social Security,” Tarr said. “What’s relevant to us is medical, groceries, and rent. And that’s all much higher than industrial costs.”
Then he excused himself to run to work.
Follow trends affecting the local economy
Subscribe to our free Business by the Bay newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
Dennis Robinson had to retire at 49, the year of his first heart attack.
Now 66, he’s worried that the Social Security bump will hurt his ability to get other types of benefits he depends on to survive.
“A lot of people won’t get their food stamps because they’ll say, ‘You’re getting too much income,’” Robinson said, while standing with his walker at the Sunshine Center. “Give me that extra, but leave the rest alone.”
As someone who has long struggled to get by on government support, Robinson believes Social Security payments need to be a lot higher.
Still, Mordecai Walker says he knows the impact Social Security can have.
At 98, he remembers when President Franklin D. Roosevelt first signed the program into existence in 1935.
“That’s the greatest thing that ever happened to me,” Walker said while eating an egg sandwich at the Sunshine Center. “After that, my mother started getting $90 a month. That was big money at the time.”
Today, about 4 million children receive benefits from the program because they’re cared for by Social Security beneficiaries, be it a parent with a disability or a retired grandparent.
Next year’s bump will be accompanied by a 3% drop in Medicare Part B premiums, meaning recipients will reap the full impact of the Social Security increase.
“We’ve got to count our blessings as they come along,” Houston said. “Eight percent is still a lot.”