Thursday, October 17, 2013

2014 Social Security Raise Expected to be Tiny

Social Security recipients are going to receive a tiny increase to their benefits again this year.  The preliminary estimate is that the increase will be only about 1.5 percent.  Considering that the average monthly benefit is currently about $1,162, this means the estimated increase will amount to approximately $17 for the typical beneficiary.

The size of the COLA not only affects retirees on Social Security, but also disabled veterans, disabled civilian workers, federal retirees, and SSI recipients, as well as their survivors.  The same cost of living estimates are used for all these groups.  This percentage may also be applied to other types of pensions, so this tiny increase will affect millions of retirees and disabled Americans.

Last year the increase was only 1.7 percent and, prior to that, there were no increases at all for the previous two years.  Over the past few years, more and more Social Security recipients are beginning to feel the pinch.  It is also becoming more difficult for them to put aside money for emergencies or unexpected expenses such as medical co-pays and car repairs.

The reason given for the low 2014 cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, is because consumer prices have not gone up much during the past year, according to government figures. In addition, fuel prices have actually gone down over the past year.  For people who are still working, lower fuel prices are certainly helpful, although this may be a less significant benefit for people who no longer commute and use their cars very little.

Some advocates for senior citizens say that the way the government measures inflation is unfair to retirees, as they tend to spend a higher percentage of their income on health care.  The low COLA doesn't help them very much since medical costs have actually risen an estimated 2.5 percent over the past year.  This is one reason that so many retirees feel that they have been falling further behind.

Things may become even more challenging for retirees over the next few years.  Congress is currently looking at making changes to all the entitlement programs, including Social Security, Medicare  and federal pensions.  The goal is to make these programs more sustainable in the long run, which is a worthy goal.  However, this plan is likely to make it even tougher for retirees to survive on their benefits alone.

For example, if the government switches to a chained CPI to calculate future cost of living increases, as has been suggested recently by several members of Congress, we can expect to continue to receive extremely low Social Security cost of living increases in the coming years.

AARP has been actively fighting against the use of a chained CPI to calculate future cost of living increases.  However, it may be a hopeless battle, since this currently seems to be the most popular recommendation for entitlement reform.  I will continue to keep my readers up-to-date on developments with regard to this issue.

(The number used in this post for the 2014 COLA will be revised should the actual increase be higher or lower than 1.5%)


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