Matt Sedensky seems to think the government has decided to reduce the real value of Social Security checks given his title “Senior citizens brace for Social Security freeze”:
Seniors prepared to cut back on everything from food to charitable donations to whiskey as word spread Monday that they will have to wait until at least 2012 to see their Social Security checks increase. The government is expected to announce this week that more than 58 million Social Security recipients will go through a second straight year without an increase in monthly benefits. This year was the first without an increase since automatic adjustments for inflation started in 1975."I think it's disgusting," said Paul McNeil, 69, a retired state worker from Warwick, R.I., who said his food and utility costs have gone up, but his income has not. He lamented decisions by lawmakers that he said do not favor seniors.
There has been no recent decision by lawmakers to freeze nominal Social Security benefits. As our graph shows, the consumer price index for August 2010 is actually lower than it was in July 2008. So if CPI properly measures the cost of living – then seniors have received a slight increase in real income. Some prices may have increased while others have decreased. And perhaps food and utility for some seniors carry a higher weight in their own budgets than the typical consumer. But if that is the argument that Mr. Sedensky wants to make – then he should make that case well before the end of his article:
Advocates for seniors argue the Consumer Price Index doesn't adequately weigh the costs that most affect older adults, particularly medical care and housing. "The existing COLA formula does not account for the economic reality of the true costs that most seniors faced," said Fernando Torres-Gil, director of UCLA's Center for Policy Research on Aging and the first person appointed to the governmental post of assistant secretary for aging, during the Clinton administration.
Even here – I have a problem with what Mr. Sedensky writes. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, energy prices have dropped dramatically over this period. It is true that the food price index has increased slightly. Over the same period, the housing price index has declined slightly. The medical price index, however, has increased by 6.8 percent. OK, seniors who budgets are heavily weighted towards the cost of medicine may have to make cutbacks.
Update: Thanks to Econospeak reader JWMason who asks us to check the CPI-E, which is discussed here:
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) also calculates an experimental price index for Americans 62 years of age or older (often called the CPI-E). This article reviews price changes seen in the experimental CPI-E from December 1997 through December 2009 and reiterates the methods, sources of data, and limitations of the experimental index described in earlier articles. Over the 12-year period from December 1997 through December 2009, the experimental CPI-E rose 36.1 percent. This compares to increases of 33.9 and 33.8 percent for the CPI-U and CPI-W, respectively … The relative importance data for the CPI-E and the CPI-U and CPI-W populations show that older Americans devote a substantially larger share of their total budgets to medical care (see Table 1). In addition, for each population group, medical care prices rose more rapidly than the overall (all items) index during each of the eight years studied. For this reason, the medical care component accounts for a significant portion of the difference between the higher rate of increase measured for the CPI-E relative to the two official population groups during the 1998-2009 period … The CPI-E, reweighted to incorporate the spending patterns of older consumers, behaved more like the CPI-U than the CPI-W. This was expected, because the CPI-U includes the expenditures of all urban consumers, including those 62 years of age and over. The CPI-W, however, is limited to the spending patterns of wage-earner and clerical families and, therefore, specifically excludes the experience of families whose primary source of income is from retirement pensions. Finally, the medical care component of the CPI has a substantially larger relative weight in the experimental population compared to the CPI-U or CPI-W. As a result, the medical care component tends to have a larger effect on the elderly population than it does on the other two indexes. Other differences also play an important role, however, such as the greater weight of homeownership in the CPI-E.
So why not index on CPI-E rather than CPI-W?