Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ): September 2021

How Does TSCL Project the Social Security COLA?

Q:  I would like to know how, at this point, you project a Social Security COLA at 6.1%. Inflation would have to continue on an upward path through September for that to happen. — R.Q., NJ

A: You make an excellent point!  The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) uses the most recent data for the consumer price index for urban wage earners and clerical workers (CPI-W), the index that is used to calculate the annual Social Security cost of living adjustment (COLA).  New data is released monthly from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Social Security policy analyst and Advisor editor Mary Johnson finds the average monthly rate of increase for the past 12 months.  This rate of inflation is added to the current month, and each subsequent month through to September, in order to project inflation in those months.  The SSA’s COLA formula takes the third quarter data (July/August/September) and finds the average for the quarter.  That is then compared that with the third quarter average from one year ago, and the percentage of difference is determined.  That percentage of difference is the amount that the COLA would increase.

The estimate of the COLA is updated every month, with the release of new CPI data, so our COLA estimates can change from month to month during the year.  Based on the data through August we estimate that the 2022 COLA will be 6% to 6.1%.  The actual COLA for 2022 will be announced October 13, 2021.

Editor’s note:  While I have a pretty reliable track record on estimating the COLA, this year’s inflation is far different than at any previous time in the past 26+ years.  Inflation has been so volatile that I worry my probability models may not work as well as they typically do.  In most years I’m pretty certain about my September estimate of the COLA for the following year.  But this time all bets are off.  Be patient — I’m no psychic, and stay tuned to the news!

To learn more about how the SSA calculates the COLA you can find that info here.