Notch Bulletin: How Much Less Do Notch Babies Receive?

Notch Bulletin: How Much Less Do Notch Babies Receive?

Recently one of our readers asked "Is there a percentage as to how much less NOTCH BABIES receive monthly?" Although not many studies exist, according to one study of average earners born from 1917 through 1926, the disparity in benefits with other retirees seems to average about 26%.

This question is signficant in light of proposals to "reform" Social Security. Several proposals, including "progressive indexing" of the benefit formula, involve changes similar to those that were enacted in 1977 that led to the Notch disparity. When proposals to change the benefit formula are debated, Members of Congress, the media, and the public tend to focus on the anticipated percentage of reduction. The danger of doing this, however, is that the assumptions used at the time often bear little resemblence to what accually occurs.

This is precisely what happened to Notch Babies. In 1977, Congress did not have the same benefit of computer software that so quickly does the projections and estimates that we have today. But even if Congress had developed examples illustrating benefit differentials among different categories of receipients "they would not have shown as great differentials as actually developed," said a paper written by James W. Kelly and Joseph R. Humphreys, that appeared in the 1994 report of The Social Security Notch Commission. Some reductions of 10% to 14% would have been anticipated at the time, but because inflation grew much more quickly than estimated, and wages grew much more slowly, benefits were reduced 13% — 30% for Notch Babies under actual conditions.

In March 1988, the General Accounting Office (now General Accountability Office) cited an example of two Notch Babies who were sisters. Edith and Audrey started work at the same book bindery on the same day. Audrey was born in March 1916. Edith was born in June 1917. When they retired, Edith received a monthly benefit of $111.80 less than Audrey, a difference of almost 18%.

In view of what happened and the substantial differential in pure dollar terms, TSCL believes "The Notch Fairness Act" is a fair, and even modest settlement for those who were affected by the Notch. "The Notch Fairness Act" would provide those born from 1917 through 1926 the option of choosing $5,000 payable over a five year period or an improved monthly benefit.

And no matter what critics may say about the dire finances of the Social Security, the government can find the money for Notch Reform simply by cutting waste, fraud and abuse. The General Accountability Office reported earlier this year that government agencies made over $45 billion in improper payments in fiscal year 2004. Forty-five billion would more than pay for a Notch settlement. TSCL estimates the cost of the Notch Fairness Act to be around $40 billion.

We urge you to contact Members of Congress and ask them to co-sponsor "The Notch Fairness Act." Suggest that by cutting the rate of improper payments due to waste, fraud and abuse, your elected lawmakers can correct the most improper payment of all, the disparity in benefits caused by the Notch and erroneous government assumptions.

Sources: "Social Security The Notch Issue," GAO-HRD-88-62, March 1988, page 14. Financial Management, Challenges in Meeting Requirements of the Improper Payments Information Act, GAO-05-417, March 2005. "Annual Statistical Survey 2004, Social Security Administration, Table 5.A.1.

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