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Eternal Poverty: The Real-life Consequences of Living on a Fixed Income

Poverty, some people argue, is relative. It very well might be. I can introduce you to several of my poor relatives, not to mention friends and colleagues. Based on that sample you could also argue that poverty is contagious. The once small circle of poor people in my life has now grown in number well beyond my ability to count them.

Whether relative or contagious, when poverty is imposed on us by events beyond our control, we suffer some pretty humiliating side effects–and lots that we can’t foresee.

Poverty is self-perpetuating

If you are drawing Social Security disability, then you’ve noticed the sporadic Cost-Of-Living Adjustments (COLAs) are so scant that they do nothing to offset the simultaneous increases in your Medicare Part D premiums. The latest example of this is what happened in January 2017. Social Security gave us an increase of 0.3 percent. Such increases are based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI). According to the US Department of Labor, the CPI it is the most widely-used measure of inflation, and theoretically reflects the effectiveness of government economic policy. So let’s put that abstraction into some concrete numbers and see the real-life impact.

My 2015 SSA benefits: COLA of 1.7 percent.

  • My total monthly benefit before deductions was $1,164.90.
  • Medicare Part B premium was $104.90.
  • Medicare Part D premium was $44.20.
  • After deductions, my net SSA income was $1,015.80.

My 2016 SSA benefits: No COLA this year because no increase in inflation.

  • My total benefit before deductions was $1,164.90.
  • Medicare Part B premium was $104.90.
  • Medicate Part D premium was $51.70. That’s an increase of $7.50, up from $44.20 in 2015.
  • After deductions, my net SSA income was $1,008.30, down $7.50 from 2015.

**Without a COLA, my annual net income was reduced by $90 because of the Part D premium increase.

My 2017 SSA benefits: COLA of 0.3 percent.

  • My total monthly benefit before deductions is $1,168.00, up $3.10 from 2016.
  • Medicare Part B premium increased from $104.90 to $108.00, up $3.10 from 2016.
  • Medicate Part D premium increased from $51.70 to $60.10, up $7.50 from 2016.
  • After deductions, my net SSA income decreased from $1008.30 to $999.90, down $7.50 from 2016.

**Despite a COLA of 0.3 percent, my annual net income was reduced by $90. The COLA and Part B premium increase was a wash, but the additional Part D premium increase set me back.

Render the poor even poorer

Numbers are not in my grain, but even I can see that my net monthly income fell from $1015.80 in 2015 to $999.90 in 2017. That’s $15.90 per month, or $190.80 per year. What was left out of my stats was the rise in food prices that resulted in an across-the-board increase of $1.00 per item in 2016, among various other “small” price hikes such as a rise in my drug co-pays each year, and a $12 dollar-per-month increase in my rent.  If the goal of government economic policy is to render the poor even poorer from one year to the next, I’d say they went above and beyond what was necessary to succeed. If there’s anything I can’t stand, it’s an over-achiever.

Did you spot the elephant in the room? Among other things, the rise in healthcare costs seems not to be factored into the CPI.

Another elephant wandered in this morning, too. Senate Republican John Cornyn, talking about the Republican’s stalled health care bill blurted out the words “health care” and “reform” in the same sentence. Suddenly I gave the television my full attention. But my ear was misled. He was using the word “reform” as a jab at Senate Democrats who, he claimed, wanted to funnel money to insurance companies to offset the losses that are making them pull out of the ACA exchanges. For a minute, I thought that finally, somebody was going to break out of the partisan talking points and acknowledge the need for more regulation.


But no. Reform was just a code word for splitting the market and floating lower premiums to healthy people. I was just waxing nostalgic, time-traveling back to the good old days of the 1960s and 1970s when reform meant a progressive social action that exposed corruption or gave some relief to the sick, the old, and the poor. Ralph Nader-like exposé and reform back when he was the mother of all whistle-blowers and the darling of the progressive element in the Democratic Party. But those days are gone. The DNC courted big money in the 1990s and, now beholden to it, pushed out that progressive element. You can’t very well protest the exploitative urges of big money when it’s paying for your ad campaigns. And the consequences for the disabled and the working poor on some kind of government assistance? Pure contempt.

“Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?” –Ebenezer Scrooge, to charity workers who solicit him for a donation for poor children in Charles Dickens’ A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1843)

We are living in a modern Ice Age. Frosty, brittle messages of hatred-of-the-poor abound. The poor are thieves, stealing your tax dollars to live high on the hog. If we don’t like being poor then we should bootstrap it, suck it up, and get a job. Including that toddler with the congenital heart defect whose normal color is a lovely blue. She should get off her cute, Huggie-diapered little tush and mop floors like every other poor child whose parents are lazy losers. After all, God helps those who help themselves.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. Fact Sheet 2017 SOCIAL SECURITY CHANGES. SOCIAL SECURITY SSA Press Office 440 Altmeyer 6401 Security Blvd. Baltimore, MD 21235 410-965-8904.">
  2. Cost-Of-Living Adjustment (COLA).">
  3. How is the Consumer Price Index (CPI) used? FAQs page,US Department of Labor--Bureau of Labor Statistics. Last updated: June 19, 2008.


  • RobWelsh
    1 year ago

    The poor pay MORE for everything. Yet we seem to have enough for tattoos, pets, cell phones, drinking, marijuana, etc. I want the better-off to take note – wealth has to actually come from somewhere, no it does not grow on trees (except maybe fruit) or in computers.

  • Shasha
    1 year ago

    Prices of supplements/food/treatments go up. I eat organic which costs more. I could grow my own food in a garden which would be good for me to be grounded and get more sunlight. I recently got Lyme/coinfections so now I had to get herbs to help and ozone/Far Infrared sauna. Tax person to me is jealous. I think she thinks MS people/sick people are on vacation and she thinks things should cost the same each year. Most of my income is for health, but I enjoy learning and it is awesome help. Garage sales etc are good enough. I don’t need much. I have many clothes in my closet I don’t wear since they are dress up clothes and I have no place to wear them. I could just wear old clothes and save lots of money. I try to help make the world a better place in a variety of ways. The best things in life are free. Alternative medicine is cheap.

  • marigoldg
    1 year ago

    Unfortunately, our nation and national leaders don’t like to talk about the poor, unless it’s to be condescending and blame anyone who IS poor. We’re a nation founded on the premise that if you work hard and earn it, then you can create the life you want. Sadly, that’s not the case in so many ways.

    I did the right things. I started working full time at 16, while still getting straight As in high school. I put myself through college, including two graduate degrees. I worked hard in the medical field and lived an amazing and gratifying life. I was financially comfortable. I had *earned* my American dream.

    Then MS decided to take all of that away from me. I couldn’t work. I lost my house. I lost my car. I had to sell most of my cherished belongings. I filed for SSDI (a SIX YEAR battle) and my husband died in the middle of it all. I didn’t CHOOSE this and none of this happened because I was lazy, wanted a handout or decided to live off the government. My body didn’t decide to betray me because I was a drug user or did anything harmful to myself to trigger an autoimmune illness.

    And yes, it’s humiliating at times to use food stamps (and have people stare at my purchases) or have to apply for grants for housing alterations to make it possible for me to live in the house I’m in now. There is a LOT of misinformation about what government assistance is and what you can use it for among the public. They think you can buy lotto tickets with it (nope), alcohol (nope), cigarettes (nope) and/or non-food items (nope). They think we live luxurious lives (definitely nope).

    There are ways to mitigate some expenses. For example, Medicare has a program called “extra help.” This program is for low income individuals and lowers drug prices *dramatically,* capping them at $8.35 per prescription for the majority of drugs.

    You can also contact your local county social services and see if you qualify for a Medicaid supplement that pays your Medicare premium. You can also choose an insurance company Medicare Advantage plan that will include your Part D coverage. You may or may not have a Part D premium you have to pay, but if you are on the extra help program and/or have your plan premium paid through your state Medicaid, then your Part D premium will be reduced.

    I don’t know what I would do without these programs. My medical costs are HUGE. My prescription costs were over $150K and my medical costs were over $80K for 2017.

    Now having said all of that, you’re right Kim. NOBODY should have to live in poverty because they are unable to work. We are the wealthiest nation in the world. We should be able to allow everyone dignity, regardless of their life circumstances.

  • LuvMyDog
    1 year ago

    We, the people who worked all of our lives and now are barely surviving on Social Security and maybe a small pension are the minorities. The younger people, the young irresponsible, poorly brought up people, are pumping out kids and living on welfare, eating well on food stamps but can still manage to go up to the customer service desk at the grocery store and buy $50. or more worth of lottery tickets!!
    Instead of watching and listening to the senate talk about this and that, WHY aren’t there 100’s of MS sufferers sitting down in front of their computers and writing to the state rep’s and the President of the United States????? I write to mine. I write through AARP. I’m constantly trying to get the problems looked at but I’m one person in a sea of millions. “Eternal Poverty” is a very good description as to how I live now.

  • messeeone
    1 year ago

    Thank you, Kim. For opening up so many eyes (I hope). For writing about a subject we rarely seem to discuss. For understanding how those of us who did everything “right,” who pulled ourselves up by our “bootstraps” ( a buzzword I despise– I’ve tried many times, in many ways to pick myself up), who worked since age 16 while keeping up our grades at good schools, now find ourselves in “poverty” due to “events beyond our control.”
    Numbers aren’t my thing, either, but you did a great job of illustrating the “cost” of “raises!”
    Now I’ll admit I don’t have to factor in the Medicare costs yet, since one of my husband’s two jobs covers us right now. But those costs keep going up, too. And don’t get me started on grocery prices. I have stood in the store, in front of a 75 cent apple and exclaimed, “they grow on trees, you know!” My husband ducks away in embarrassment, but I’m getting to old and tired to care a whole lot about what people think!
    I’m usually one of those “positive” MSers. Friends and family comment on how they’d never know I was dealing with MS issues. But this topic has been on my mind for years and I thank you again for an opportunity to discuss this. I feel a little better now.

  • Devin Garlit moderator
    1 year ago

    Well said Kim!

  • Patrick Madison
    1 year ago

    M6 question is what can those of us who seemed doomed to live of SSDI and eventually SSI do to increase our income? Onc3 on SSI you can work and earn up to som3vamount before they offset your benifits but while on SSDI if you work to try and earn some extra money you risk loosing your benefits entirely.

  • Kim Dolce moderator author
    1 year ago

    Hi Patrick,

    I have earned income above and beyond SSDI doing freelance work. We can make up to $1,400 per month without having our SS benefit reduced. That’s $17,000 per year. I believe that for every two dollars we earn above that, our SSDI is reduce by one dollar. If you don’t mind doing telemarketing work, you can find work through the SS TIcket to Work program. See the website for more info. If you want more meaningful work, I’d suggest starting as a volunteer doing something you are interested and passionate about like I did. It can turn into a paying job at some point. Thanks for your comment. –Kim, author and moderator

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