Document Type

Research Report

Publication Date



Social Security benefits, cost of living, Elder Index, living expenses, older adults


Elder Law | Gerontology | Social Welfare


Social Security benefits fall short of what is required to cover the basic cost of living across the United States, according to new estimates based on the Elder Index, a county-by-county measure of the income older adults need to secure an independent lifestyle. Nationally, the average Social Security benefit covers just 68% of basic living expenses of housing, food, transportation, and health care for a single renter in 2021, and 81% for an older couple. The gap between Social Security benefits and what it takes to get by is especially problematic for older adults who rely largely or entirely on Social Security, including nearly a quarter of adults age 65 or older who depend on Social Security for 90% or more of their family income.

In this brief report, we compare average county-level Social Security benefits to the Elder Index in 2021. We demonstrate that Social Security benefits remain too low to support a financially secure lifestyle in virtually every community in America.



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