Prices have risen by large amounts across the board over the past year. Nearly everything from gasoline and travel to pet food, clothing, and household essentials has gone up in price. This is particularly true at the grocery store. Staples including ground beef, milk, and eggs have all gone up significantly.
According to the latest consumer price index statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, overall inflation rates increased to 6.8% over the previous year in December of 2021, marking the largest annual increase in the inflation rate since June 1982.
Perhaps the people most affected by inflation are seniors and those with disabilities living on fixed incomes. Social Security benefits, a pension, an individual’s personal retirement assets, or a combination of all are usual sources of income for retirees and seniors over the age of 65. In either situation, the monthly amounts from Social Security and pensions are predetermined, and taking more out now simply means taking less afterward.
Disability benefits are available in two forms for people under the age of 65 with disabilities: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). SSDI is for individuals who formerly worked but are now unable to do so because of a disability. According to the National Council on Aging, monthly amounts range from $1,128 to $3,148 per month, depending on income previous to disability. SSI provides an average of $515 per month to a maximum of $794 per month for a single adult and is available to low-income, disabled Americans regardless of their work history.
A random price increase here and there would likely not be difficult to accept for those who live on this type of income, but when everything raises at the same time, there are simply less margins of adjustment available to absorb universal increases. Rent increases are particularly problematic because they can use virtually all of a person’s discretionary income on a fixed income.
In my home state of Massachusetts, the average monthly rent for a 1-bedroom apartment in 2020 was $1,995. Massachusetts was only behind Washington, D.C., with the average rent being $2,324 for an apartment of the same size. Someone receiving the maximum SSI benefit wouldn’t be able to afford the typical apartment on their own in Massachusetts or Washington, D.C.
For lower-income workers who are still working, the pandemic’s unusual circumstances have created opportunities for some to demonstrate their value and negotiate their way into better pay, benefits, and positions. These people may be able to tolerate higher prices better, but those who are unable to work due to age or disability will not be able to bargain for better wages. Even when individuals in the labor force develop, their financial situation remains virtually unaltered.
The bottom line on inflation for people with disabilities of all ages is that the price increases of 2021 were a tremendous blow to their capacity to continue living independently and with dignity. Higher prices may sting for everyone, but it threatens the fundamental life of people with disabilities, as well as their capacity to live the lives that are most satisfying and meaningful to them.
Bauer, Brandy. “SSI vs. SSDI: the Differences, Benefits, and How to Apply.” The National Council on Aging, The National Council on Aging, 16 Mar. 2022, https://www.ncoa.org/article/ssi-vs-ssdi-what-are-these-benefits-how-they-differ.
Popken, Benjamin. “Consumer Prices Rose by 6.8% in November, as Inflation Hits Highest Pace since 1982.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 11 Dec. 2021, https://www.nbcnews.com/business/economy/consumer-prices-rose-68-percent-november-inflation-hits-highest-40-yea-rcna8283.
Temple, Sydney. “America’s 2020 Rental Market in Review: Did Renters Pay More During Pandemic?” Rentable, Rentable, 17 June 2021, https://www.rentable.co/blog/annual-rent-report/.