Millions of older people face shrinking Social Security checks next year, the first time in a generation that payments would not rise. The trustees who oversee Social Security are projecting there won't be a cost of living adjustment (COLA) for the next two years. That hasn't happened since automatic increases were adopted in 1975. By law, Social Security benefits cannot go down ... Cost of living adjustments are pegged to inflation, which has been negative this year, largely because energy prices are below 2008 levels ... All beneficiaries received a 5.8 percent increase in January, the largest since 1982.
The Social Security Administration states:
Beginning in 1975, Social Security started automatic annual cost-of-living adjustments. The change was enacted by legislation that ties COLAs to the annual increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI-W) ... Based on the increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI-W) from the third quarter of 2007 through the third quarter of 2008, Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) beneficiaries will receive a 5.8 percent COLA for 2009.
CPI-W is the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers – if one is interested in how this index has behaved of late, check this out. When prices rose, nominal benefits also rose so as to keep real benefits the same. In the last year, this price index has declined and appears to be expected to decline for a while. So with unchanged nominal benefits – wouldn’t a better title be real benefits are expected to increase?
Ohlemacher may have a point if the relative price of premiums for the Medicare prescription drug program increases substantially but by his own account, the extra premiums do not appear dramatic enough to justify his scare title.