The Goldendale Sentinel - Headlines & History since 1879

By Sandra DeMent
For The Sentinel 

County seniors take part in Social Security survey


A total of 97 seniors, representing over 3 percent of those receiving Social Security in Klickitat County, were surveyed with help from the Senior Meals programs in Goldendale, White Salmon, Lyle and Klickitat. A mailed survey reached an additional 1,300 seniors.

Census Bureau data for 2015 shows there are over 4300 seniors over 65 years of age in the county, with 3145 receiving monthly Social Security. The Survey respondents ranged in age from 63 to 95; the average age was just under 79. Not surprisingly, 65 percent described themselves as “basically healthy;” another 25 percent said they were healthy but had mobility issues or problems with exertion. Only 7 percent said they were in poor health.

More than 47 percent of these senior live alone; only 38 percent live with a spouse. Over 80 percent own their own homes; 19 percent were renters.

Seniors were asked whether they began receiving social security benefits early, after reaching 62 years old. Surprisingly, over 53 percent of those responding said that they had taken early benefits. There are many reasons people do so. For example, a widow with a weak job history or a 62 year old who has been unable to find a job in a bad economy, might elect to receive early benefits. But those who do so give up 25 percent of the benefits they would have gotten if they had waited until their full retirement age at 65 or 66. The 25 percent benefit reduction lasts for the rest of their lives.

Census Bureau statistics on social security payments are tricky to understand. Typically, they are reported as benefits received by a “household” which might include one person or a couple. The Bureau’s American Community Survey for Klickitat County reports the average benefit received per household was $1,693 in 2015. Klickitat County seniors responding to the survey reported an average monthly social security payment of $1266. The median benefit—meaning half of seniors receive less and half receive more—is only $1100.

Nearly all seniors who received social security benefits also were enrolled in Medicare, and a large number also had other supplemental insurance.

Those seniors who reported other sources of income had other retirement income (43 percent), rental income (20 percent), savings and investments (19 percent), and military pensions (10 percent). Some respondents had more than one source of income.

Seniors were asked to report what percent of their income came from their social security payments. On average, Klickitat County seniors reported that 75 percent of their income came from social security. Over 40 percent reported that social security was their only income.

Finally, the survey explored what changes the seniors felt would best solve the financial challenges facing social security. Nearly half thought that benefits to the wealthy should be reduced, with “wealthy” being defined as people with annual income from $30,000 to $250,000, with the median being $100,000. Roughly 30 percent were in favor of increasing the payroll tax and equal numbers—19 percent--favored raising the cap on incomes that are subject to the payroll tax or increasing the age of early eligibility for benefits or both.

Seniors were also asked what they would do if their social security benefits were reduced, and their responses ranged from the comic to the tragic. A number suggested they would be homeless if their benefits were cut, one man saying he would “live in the woods in a tent or RV.” A 90 year old man said he would look for work. Another respondent wrote: “I’d be mad.” Two others, joking, said they would sell their gold and silver in their safe deposit boxes at the bank. A surprising number said they would cut back on food expenses, while those with property said they would sell the property to help cover their living expenses. One respondent, age 95, said he would “die.” Another glumly summarized her situation as being “homeless, hungry, and uninsured.”

More than a few summary comments included a strong suggestion that the solution would be to make the wealth pay their medical expenses, pay their taxes, etc. Others pointed to the failure of the cost of living adjustment (COLA) to cover the rising cost of living.

Survey results will be shared with public officials and will be discussed at a public meeting on Social Security scheduled for Monday, Aug. 7, at 6:30 pm at the Lions Club in Lyle.


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