Older Americans are increasingly ‘unretiring’ to deal with elevated prices and rocky financial positions. Unfortunately, financial insecurity from inflation may be here to stay.

Rising costs have turned grocery staples like eggs into luxuries for many people on a fixed budget. Prices seemed to be coming down, but recent data signal that the end of elevated inflation remains elusive. The consumer price index (CPI) rose 4.9% in April from a year prior. This is below the generational high of 9.1% in June 2022. However, overall CPI was flat from March after months of slowing price increases.

Shelter prices are up 0.4% from the last month, with overall housing costs at 8.1% higher in April compared to a year earlier. Shelter, which is responsible for a third of CPI weighting, was a key factor driving CPI higher despite declines in other categories.

Unlike other discretionary spending, housing is not optional. Increasingly, Americans are spending more on rent, and this disproportionately impacts low-income people and older adults, especially those on fixed budgets. Nearly 10 million households headed by people aged 65 or older pay more than a third of their income on housing, and half of these pay more than 50%. Renter households tend to have lower incomes than owner households and are more affected by income and rental price changes.

Un-retiring to grapple with inflation

An average of 10,000 Baby Boomers reach retirement age each day. Unfortunately, the inflation-driven affordability crisis and the Federal Reserve’s interest rate hikes meant to combat inflation have driven housing costs higher. As a result, retirees are moving back into the labor force. According to a survey by Paychex, 55% of retirees who went back to work said they did so because they needed more money, and 1 in 6 retirees is considering returning to work.

Their work ethic is welcomed by employers, and their presence may alleviate worker shortages. However, postponing or ending retirement is a hard choice to make.

Savings and investments should be a cushion for retirees even through difficult periods. Many older adults find themselves in deteriorating financial positions due to massive stock market losses in 2022. Some $12.2 trillion in wealth was wiped out as the Dow, S&P 500, and Nasdaq lost 8%, 19.4%, and 33%, respectively. In an AARP survey late last year, more than a third of people 65 and older described their financial situation as worse than a year prior — up from just 13% at the start of the year. While large shares of Americans across age demographics expressed financial struggles, older Americans were more pessimistic about conditions improving for them in the future.

Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits increased by 8.7% — more than $140 per month — at the start of the year. While that’s a little extra breathing room, the extra social security dollars are not enough.

The cost of bad policy in the Biden administration

People have connected the dots between ill-advised government policies and harsh economic outcomes. Spending nearly $2 trillion dollars on government transfers to nearly every household at a time of supply-chain disruptions and exacerbated labor shortages caused inflation to accelerate. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and other production disruptions worsened it. 

The Biden administration and congressional Democrats passed a climate change bill that they falsely labeled the Inflation Reduction Act in hopes of fooling Americans, especially seniors. The bill never addressed rising food, housing, or energy prices — the most basic and critical needs of households. Any climate savings would take years to come to fruition and could be offset by new costs for households — tens of thousands of dollars — on new electric vehicles. Meanwhile, the green subsidies cost more than three times what the law’s supporters claimed.

Reckless federal spending triggered inflation to skyrocket. Anyone promoting an agenda of inaction on government overspending, especially during debt ceiling negotiations, isn’t helping seniors, but contributing to their hardship.