Almost 40% of Seniors Are Going Back to Work Due to Low COLA. Are You?

Social Security benefit amounts adjust for inflation every year, but the small cost-of-living bump for 2024 might not be enough for most seniors, new survey shows.

A Social Security card is partially obscured and surrounded by cash.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Almost 40% of senior citizens plan to seek employment due to the modest 3.2% cost-of-living (COLA) increase in Social Security benefits for 2024, according to a new survey by law firm Atticus. More than 60% are unhappy with the bump up from last year.

The survey highlights this demographic's notable dissatisfaction and financial distress due to the modest 2024 cost-of-living adjustment (COLA). It also sheds light on the pressing need for more robust measures to support older adults in the future. 

Nearly two in five senior citizens plan to seek employment, and just over half are confident that Social Security will be able to provide for their long-term needs, especially in light of the rising cost of living. 

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The 3.2% bump in the COLA, considerably less than the 8.7% jump in 2023, equals an average of about $55 more each month for Social Security beneficiaries, starting in January. It’s important to note that the 8.7% increase last year was the largest since 1981. 

Most seniors unhappy with the COLA increase

  • 62% of senior citizens are dissatisfied with the 3.2% COLA for 2024
  • Nearly 3 in 5 seniors are already struggling financially
  • 70% of single seniors are struggling financially with their existing Social Security income
  • Almost 2 in 5 seniors plan to seek employment due to the modest 2024 COLA increase
  • Almost half, or 47%, of single seniors are considering employment to supplement their income
  • Only 52% of seniors are confident in the program’s ability to provide for their long-term needs

Essential costs jumped in 2023

  • Insurance: health (increased by 7%) and car (increased by 19%)
  • Groceries (increased 5.8%
  • Housing (2023’s average median sale price was higher than any previous year in history) 
  • Healthcare premiums (increased by 7% in 2023) 

Many seniors worry that these double-digit increases in the last year may not be enough to sustain their way of life in 2024 and beyond. That is especially true if Social Security is the only or primary source of income. 

In fact, due to inflation and benefit changes, seniors collecting Social Security are most likely to reduce discretionary spending (64%), cut back on essential spending (36%), and make use of community resources or assistance programs (16%). 

But that’s in the coming year. Going forward, 68% of seniors feel the inadequacy of COLA adjustments may not keep up with the actual cost of living, while 61% have low confidence about the solvency and long-term sustainability of the Social Security program. 

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Kathryn Pomroy

For the past 18+ years, Kathryn has highlighted the humanity in personal finance by shaping stories that identify the opportunities and obstacles in managing a person's finances. All the same, she’ll jump on other equally important topics if needed. Kathryn graduated with a degree in Journalism and lives in Duluth, Minnesota. She joined Kiplinger in 2023 as a contributor.