Legislative Update: November 2010

Legislative Update: November 2010

By Mike Watson, TSCL Legislative Assistant

There’s hardly anyone who isn’t feeling the effects of our “Great Recession.” We’ve learned of seniors sharing depression-era survival techniques with younger family members. Meanwhile their Baby Boomer children nearing retirement wonder if they’ll ever have enough money to retire.

Many seniors are struggling with their vastly diminished retirement accounts following the stock market crash. Additionally, the inventory of unsold houses has now reached record highs and the forecasts for retirees who need to get their cash out of real estate are gloomy indeed.

In the midst of all this, a new study by The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) found that the drop in average wages in recent years coupled with no cost-of-living-adjustments (COLAs), and projections of extremely low COLAs, is reducing the amount retirees can count on in Social Security benefits over their retirement.

The study found that people who are retiring now, or who are approaching retirement, are facing a significant loss in lifetime Social Security benefits. Although the amounts vary by earnings, and years worked, in some cases today’s average-earning retirees could stand to lose nearly $40,000 over a 20-year retirement.
This is especially important new research at a time when Social Security faces potential changes. President Obama’s “National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform” is scheduled to release its plan to cut the federal deficit by December 1st.

Many observers believe the plan will likely include a combination of tax increases and benefit cuts for Social Security. Some of the most commonly mentioned proposals are: (1) switching to the chained Consumer Price Index (CPI) to calculate Social Security COLAs; (2) lifting or raising the cap on income which is subject to Social Security taxes; and (3) raising the Social Security retirement age. Switching to the chained CPI alone would both reduce initial benefits and cut lifetime Social Security benefits by more than 10%.

If Congress considers cuts to the COLA, changes in the benefit formula and increases in the retirement age, special attention will be needed regarding when changes would become effective and how they would be phased-in. The recession is already having a significant impact on the growth of Social Security benefits. If Congress cuts benefits, or reduces the growth in benefits during this slow recovery, it will likely produce a long lasting double-whammy effect for retirees.

In the final weeks of the 111th Congress, TSCL will continue working to prevent cuts to Social Security benefits that are already insufficient for too many of our nation’s seniors.