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How Important Is Social Security to Retirees in U.S. Cities? 2023 Study

A pen and pair of glasses sit atop of a social security card and $100 bill.

When inflation surges and cash loses its purchasing power, retirees’ hard-earned savings suddenly don’t go as far as they expected. Inflation may also lead to widespread salary increases, but retirees typically don’t benefit from wage growth because they’ve already left the workforce.

However, the Social Security Administration adjusts benefits in an attempt to keep pace with the rising price of goods and services. As inflation spiked in recent years, these annual cost of living adjustments (COLAs) pushed Social Security benefits 1.3% and 5.9% higher in 2020 and 2021, respectively. With this in mind, SmartAsset set out to uncover where seniors rely the most on social security by analyzing income data for seniors in 100 U.S. cities.

Key Findings

  • Social Security comprises over 40% of a retiree’s income, on average. The average retiree in the U.S. received 41.6% of their total income ($50,780) from Social Security in 2021, slightly up from 41.50% in our 2022 study. The percentage is even higher for retirees in some cities, where Social Security can reach up to 50% of overall retirement income.
  • The 65+ population in Nashville, Lincoln and Charlotte is rising fast. The senior population in these cities have grown 15.12%, 14.20% and 12.89%, respectively between 2017 and 2021. Meanwhile, the retired population became more reliant on Social Security compared to last year’s rankings: Nashville and Lincoln each jumped three spots, while Charlotte’s senior population shot up from 45th to 10th.
  • Midwestern cities are more reliant on Social Security, while California seniors have other sources of income. Cities in Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska, Michigan and Ohio frequent the top 10 cities where seniors are most reliant on Social Security, while California cities dominate the 10 least dependent.

Where Retirees Rely on Social Security Most

1. Fort Wayne, IN
For the fifth year in a row, Fort Wayne claims the top spot in our study. Retirees here get more than half (50.04%) of their overall retirement income from Social Security – less than last year when it made up more than 52% of retiree income. This suggests other income sources for retirees in Fort Wayne kept up better than Social Security. Meanwhile, the population for those 65 and older has grown 8.87% between 2017 and 2021.

2. Wichita, KS
Retirees in Wichita have an average annual income of $45,220, of which just under half (49.81%) comes from Social Security. Once revered as the largest aircraft manufacturing hub in the world, Wichita is now home to over 62,500 residents who are 65 and older and can enjoy many cultural activities at the Wichita Symphony Orchestra, the Wichita Art Museum and the Orpheum Theatre.

3. Nashville, TN
Retirees in Nashville can take advantage of legendary live music venues like the Grand Ole Opry and Bluebird Cafe. More than 89,000 seniors 65 and older call this city home. Social Security makes up 48.15% of their total retirement income ($46,133), which is up from 45.80% in the 2022 study.

4. Lincoln, NE
Retirees living in Nebraska’s capital rely on Social Security for 47.10% of their total income ($49,979), up from 45.56% a year ago. Almost 43,000 seniors 65 and older live in Lincoln and this population grew 14.20% between 2017 and 2021.

5. Surprise, AZ
Located about 30 miles northwest of Phoenix, Surprise’s senior population declined by 2.51% between 2017 and 2021. The city has the second-highest average Social Security benefit across our study at $24,890, which accounts for 46.78% of the total retirement income. Surprise is home to a number of golf courses, and retirees can also catch a glimpse of two Major League Baseball teams, the Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals, at their spring training facilities.

Where Retirees Rely on Social Security Least

1. Washington D.C.
Retirees in our nation’s capital get 30.22% of their income from Social Security, less than any other city in our study. Social Security pays the average D.C. retiree $18,942 per year; while other retirement income streams average $43,744. More than 85,000 residents 65 and older call this city home.

2. Chula Vista, CA
Social Security accounts for 31.63% of the average retiree’s total income in Chula Vista. That’s more than 3.5 points lower than in our 2022 study, when it provided retirees with 34.01% of their retirement income. Located about 10 miles south of San Diego, Chula Vista saw its 65-and-older population increase 15.74% between 2017 and 2021. The city’s warm weather, beaches and outdoor recreation make this Southern California city an attractive retirement destination.

3. Riverside, CA
Inland of Los Angeles, Riverside is home to more than 34,000 retirees who are 65 and older, and this population has grown 7.87% between 2017 and 2021. The average retiree here lives on $56,424 per year, with Social Security making up 33.53%.

4. Sacramento, CA
California’s capital city has seen a senior boom in recent years. Sacramento’s 65-and-older population increased 23.44% between 2017 and 2021. The average retiree here relies on Social Security to cover 33.56% of their overall retirement income ($55,815). Sacramento’s proximity to California wine country makes it an ideal retirement locale for wine lovers.

5. Glendale, CA
Located just north of Los Angeles, the city of Glendale saw its 65-and-older population shrink by 1.23% between 2017 and 2021. The average retiree in Glendale collects $20,411 in Social Security, which makes up 33.88% of their total retirement income ($60,248). Retirees here can take advantage of the city’s downtown shopping area, which includes an outdoor mall.

Data and Methodology

To find the places where retirees rely most on Social Security, we examined data for social security income as a percentage of overall retirement income in the 100 cities with the largest population of residents ages 65 and older. Specifically, we looked at the following two metrics:

  • Average retirement income for senior households. This is all income which comes from pension plans, periodic income from annuities or insurance and income from IRA plans. Data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2021 1-year American Community Survey.
  • Average Social Security income for senior households. This includes Social Security pensions and survivors benefits and permanent disability insurance payments made by the Social Security Administration. Data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2021 1-year American Community Survey.

Social Security Planning Tips

  • Work with a professional. A financial advisor can help you build a comprehensive retirement plan that integrates Social Security into your other income streams. Finding a financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset can match you with up to three vetted financial advisors who serve your area, and you can interview your advisor matches at no cost to decide which one is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • Run your numbers. Knowing how much you can expect in Social Security is a vital piece of the retirement planning puzzle. SmartAsset’s Social Security calculator can help you estimate how much your benefit will be based on your income, age and when you plan to start collecting.
  • Consider delaying Social Security in a down market. It’s important to understand the risk of entering retirement during a bear market. Early withdrawals from your portfolio may lock in investment losses and reduce the longevity of your savings. Despite this, we recently found that delaying Social Security until full retirement age actually produces more total retirement income over a 30-year period compared to claiming at age 62, even if it means exhausting your savings sooner.

Questions about our study? Contact us at

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