The Social Security Administration's announcement that next year's monthly checks will contain the largest increase in more than 25 years may have been intended to keep retirees contented. But for many seniors in the Valley, the move is rather meager.
The 5.8 percent increase announced last week is the biggest since 1982. It will result in more than 34.9 million older Americans receiving a slightly bigger check in 2009, increasing the typical retiree's monthly check by $63 - from $1,090 to $1,153 a month.
But in a year that has seen increased food and gas prices, as well as the decay of retirement plans and lifetime savings in the volatile stock market, it doesn't seem to be much of a boost.
"As the costs of everyday living expenses continue to rise, people living on fixed incomes have been among those hardest hit by the financial crisis," said David Certner, AARP legislative policy director. "Unfortunately, this (cost-of-living adjustment) will not completely ease their burden."
Valley retirees like Mesa resident Helga Kofoed, 72, share his sentiment. "It's just a drop in the bucket," said Kofoed.
She will use the extra cash to pay off her medicine bills - an endless source of financial headaches - but the $63 increase will hardly put a dent in her bills, which run about $2,000 a month.
The Senior Citizens League, a lobbying group concerned with the protection of benefits, said the greater part of the "50 million Americans who receive a Social Security check depend on it for at least 50 percent of their total income, and one in three beneficiaries relies on it for 90 percent or more of their total income."
The league also did a study that found people 65 and older have lost 51 percent of their buying power since 2000. It said expenses such as home heating oil and gasoline have more than doubled since 2000.
Clara Crone, 84, of Mesa said most of her costs are basic. But the retirement community she lives in increases rent every year; this year it was up $40. Throw in the increases to her utilities and groceries, she said, and she has a hard time holding her finances together.
"I'm not complaining," she said. "I live comfortably, but costs are always rising. It isn't easy."
The volatility in the stock market has wreaked havoc on many retirees' investments and put the retirement savings of millions of Americans in jeopardy, said Certner of AARP.
The instability has kept retirees like Alvina DeVille, 85, of Mesa out of the market. She doesn't want to risk it. However, she is looking forward to getting the $63 bump next year.
"It isn't much, you know," she said. "At least it's something."