According to The Senior Citizens League, the sleight of hand behind it is a formula for calculating the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) that has robbed seniors of 33% of their buying power since 2010.
Since then, annual COLA increases have averaged a meager 1.375%. That means the average recipient has received a COLA increase of less than $20 a month. For many, the con job is even more vexing because much of that gain is taken back with increases in Medicare premiums.
These annual COLA adjustments are based by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) on a formula that uses the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers — a lengthy descriptor that’s usually abbreviated as CPI-W. Therein lies the problem — this index does not accurately reflect the rising costs that most affect seniors — such as medical care and drugs, food/staples and rent. Even the most modest estimates suggest these costs are increasing at a rate of somewhere between 5% and 10% annually.
Members of Congress have increasingly demanded large tax hikes on upper-income families to finance large spending increases on top of soaring baseline deficits. But even the most aggressive tax hikes on the rich would make only a small dent in the long-term budget deficits, and they would significantly harm the economy. Before considering any new taxes, lawmakers should first reduce federal spending benefits for high-income families. This bipartisan strategy would achieve both the redistributive goals of the left and the spending restraint goals of the right.
Such upper-income spending cuts have several advantages over new taxes: 1) they will not harm economic growth, 2) they increase future policy flexibility, 3) they are better targeted, and 4) they promote political compromise.
Several programs target spending to wealthy Americans. This report focuses on three of the largest: Social Security, Medicare, and farm subsidies, where basic reforms could save upward of $1 trillion in the first decade, and substantially more in future decades.
Thirteen states tax Social Security benefits, a matter of significant interest to retirees. Each of these states has its own approach to determining what share of benefits is subject to tax, though these provisions can be grouped together into a few broad categories. Today’s map illustrates these approaches.
Chile’s privately run pension funds are in a battle for survival, reeling under the impact of billions of dollars of withdrawals as politicians and social movements attack a system once viewed as a model for the world.
Chileans have taken out more than $30 billion from their retirement savings in the past year and congress has authorized a third wave of withdrawals that could drive the figure to more than $50 billion. That would leave the pension funds with about $180 billion of equities and fixed-income assets. Many lawmakers are now calling for the whole system to be dismantled.
Created during the dictatorship of August Pinochet on the advice of free-market economists known as the Chicago Boys, the private pensions Chileans are required to fund are a bedrock of the country’s system. The savings they have generated over the past four decades have given local credit markets and the peso a stability that is the envy of serial defaulters such as Argentina or Ecuador, and prompted countries including Peru and Colombia to adopt similar structures. Yet, many complain that the funds have failed to provide decent pensions.
Distrust in the system, and a need for cash, meant Chileans rushed to pull money out of their savings accounts as the pandemic forced the government to shutter much of the economy.
The differences in reliance on income sources between those who are already retired and those who are not yet retired are likely attributable, at least in part, to apprehension about the Social Security system, as well as the rise of 401(k)s accompanied by a decline in work-sponsored pension plans.
57% of retired U.S. adults say they rely on Social Security as a major income source, and 38% of nonretirees expect it to be a major source for them.
Likewise, 36% of retirees and 19% of nonretirees say a work-sponsored pension plan is or will be a major income source.
Nonretirees are most likely to say a 401(k) or other retirement savings account will fund their retirement (49%). Meanwhile, 35% of retirees mention 401(k)s as a major funding source of their retirement.
Delaying Social Security may mean scoring a higher monthly benefit — but it doesn’t necessarily mean snagging a higher lifetime benefit. In fact, if you pass away at a somewhat young age, you’ll actually lose out on lifetime income by delaying your filing until 70.
Let’s imagine you’re entitled to a monthly benefit of $1,500 at an FRA of 67. If you were to claim that benefit at age 62, it would shrink to $1,050, whereas delaying it until 70 would let it grow to $1,860.
But if you were to pass away at the age of 78, which is considered relatively young given today’s life expectancies, here’s what you’d be looking at in terms of lifetime income:
The rate of growth in retired Americans who collect Social Security has slowed down sharply, and the drop may be due in part to the disproportionate number of deaths from Covid-19 among the elderly.
The number of people who received retirement benefits from the Social Security Administration rose 900,000 to 46.4 million in March, the smallest year-over-year gain since April 2009.
While the Office of the Chief Actuary at the government agency said it is still too early to assess the impact from Covid-19, the year-over-year change appears to reflect excess deaths. About 447,000 people who died from the virus were 65 or older, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or about 80% of total deaths.
Just over one-third (35%) of near-retirees (age 55 to 65) failed and another 18% earned a grade of D on a basic knowledge quiz about Social Security retirement benefits, while only 3%, received an A+ by answering all 12 true/false statements correctly, according to the latest MassMutual Social Security consumer poll.
Even more startling, over a quarter (26%) of individuals age 60 to 65 have no idea of the full retirement age.
There is good news, however, and an improving trend.
A large majority (83%) are very knowledgeable about the consequences of receiving Social Security benefits before reaching their full retirement age. A whopping 94% know that if they take benefits before full retirement age, their benefits will be reduced as a result of filing early while 86% know that if they receive benefits before their full retirement age and continue to work, their benefits may be reduced based on how much they make.
The Time to Rescue United States Trusts, or TRUST Act, would establish bipartisan, bicameral commissions to address the long-term solvency of major trust funds.
The Congressional Budget Office projects the Highway Trust Fund will be insolvent by 2022, the Medicare Hospital Insurance Trust Fund in 2026, the Social Security retirement fund in 2032, and Social Security Disability Insurance in 2035.
THINKADVISOR: What’s your take on President Biden’s proposal for fixing Social Security?
ALICIA MUNNELL: A step in the right direction. Good ideas but incomplete. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s just not complete. He wants to have a few benefit enhancements and to increase taxes for people earning over $400,000. But I don’t think his numbers close the full 75-year Social Security [system] shortfall.
Lawmakers have moved to include in the bill an unrelated $86 billion bailout for bankrupt union pension plans.
And once they’ve done that, it’s going to be even harder for them to argue that they shouldn’t bail out the stricken Social Security trust fund that is actually their responsibility. Social Security’s deficit: $16.8 trillion, or about $50,000 for every person in America.
On the other hand, if Congress tries to weasel out of fully funding Social Security in a few years’ time, this rescue of private sector union pensions is going to look like an outrage.