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Senior citizens talk about the adjustments they're making as cost of living rises


Inflation has forced people to make compromises in their lives - what they eat and where, what they can't afford to buy or do or the medicines they can take. Those compromises can be especially unkind for millions of senior citizens who depend on Social Security income. We went to a Giant Food - a supermarket chain in Northeast Washington, D.C. - to hear from some seniors.

MURANDA WILLIS: Bread is ridiculous. Vegetables - oh, my God. Only thing I'm able to buy is chicken. And then I have to cut back on that.

SIMON: Muranda Willis is 69 and used to work for the federal government.

WILLIS: I have multiple sclerosis. I have a bag full of medications. But when I run out, I don't have the money to get it. And I'm worried about that because, you know, it's going to cause me to get sick and end up in the hospital, and then I'm going to have a hospital bill.

SIMON: Each year, the Social Security Administration adds a cost-of-living adjustment to what it pays recipients every month. But inflation has been rising more quickly than the adjustments. Checks went up about 6% in January. Inflation is currently at 8.3%. The Federal Reserve has been raising interest rates to try to stem inflation, but that means higher interest rates for credit cards, too, which Muranda Willis has been using to try to get by.

WILLIS: My credit card is going to give me bad credit 'cause I can't afford it.

SIMON: Another shopper, James Perkins, says he receives $850 a month in disability insurance, but his rent just increased to $1,200.

JAMES PERKINS: Right now I'm in bad, bad shape - bad shape right now.

SIMON: His pastor helped him make up the difference, but Mr. Perkins is two months behind in his rent. He says when he goes to the grocery store, he can only get five items - milk, juice, bread, apples and bananas. Once a week, a food service brings him ten portions of chicken and rice. That's mostly what he eats for lunch and dinner.

PERKINS: Had to change the way I eat 'cause I can't afford to buy the good food like I used to buy.

SIMON: Some shoppers said inflation has just made them make choices in their budget. But Wanda Davis says no amount of budgeting can help her. She thought she retired from retail for good two years ago.

WANDA DAVIS: After my savings had ran out, with the bills that I have to pay and I'm trying to buy food and the other necessities that I need to have in my household, I basically had to pick up a part-time job.

SIMON: She works about 20 hours a week.

DAVIS: After all the years that I've been in retail - for over 20 years - and have to come back and go to work - and the money that they have given us to live off of - it's just not enough. It's a struggle.

SIMON: Next month, the government will announce the inflation adjustment for next year's checks, and analysts say it will be the largest in decades. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.