By Mary Johnson, editor
How much would your Social Security cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) be worth if it was more accurately based on your spending patterns as a retiree? Social Security legislation under debate in the U.S. House would tie the annual boost for inflation to the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly (CPI-E). Had that index been used to calculate the COLA for 2020, your annual boost would be 1.9%, versus the 1.6% that Social Security recipients are actually getting.
Research that I’ve conducted over more than 20 years indicates that retirees would receive a higher COLA in most years using a “seniors” CPI, rather than by using the current method of indexing which is based on the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). One of the bigger problems with using the CPI-W is the fact that retirees spend their money very differently than younger working adults. Retirees must spend more on healthcare and housing, and less on gasoline and consumer electronics.
The CPI-E tends to grow more quickly than the CPI-W in most years, because it more accurately accounts for the percentage of income that retirees spend on healthcare and housing costs. Those two categories tend to increase several times faster than inflation, and tend to take a bigger share of retiree income. The CPI-E tends to give less weight to items like gasoline and consumer electronics which have fallen significantly in recent months and helped drag down the COLA for 2020.
Since the start of CPI-E in 1983, the average difference between it and the CPI-W is roughly .25 percentage point per year. Sounds tiny but, like interest, it compounds over time. Had the CPI-E been used to determine COLAs since 2015, your benefit would be about 2% higher today. An average benefit of $1,215 per month in 2015 will increase to $1,298 per month in 2020. But had the CPI-E been used to calculate the COLAs, that benefit would have been $26 per month more or $1,324 in 2020.
TSCL supports several bills in the House that would strengthen your Social Security benefits by indexing the COLA using the CPI-E. Visit us at www.SeniorsLeague to learn the latest on this legislation and what you can do to help move this legislation in Congress!