Will 2015 Be Year Of The Lowest COLA Ever Paid?
Posted on Tuesday, February 18th, 2014 at 12:00 pm.
Alexandria, VA: More than 62.5 million seniors, as well as recipients of other federal benefits, may be at high risk of not receiving any cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) next year, according to a new forecast from The Senior Citizens League (TSCL), a nonpartisan seniors organization. Based on the government’s most recent inflation data over the past 12 months, growth in the consumer price index is so low that, should the trend continue through the third quarter of the year, inflation would be about 2% lower than the same period last year. “That would mean no COLA would be payable in 2015,” says TSCL Chairman, Ed Cates. “Although a lot can happen between now and then,” Cates notes, “TSCL anticipates that the buying power of benefits will be impacted.”
TSCL is not the only organization to warn about the prospect of another extremely low COLA next year. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) in its latest budget report projected that next year’s COLA would be 1.6%. Seniors depend on COLAS to protect the buying power of benefits from rising costs over retirement, which can last as long as 25 or 30 years. But over the past five years, COLAs have been at record lows, averaging only 1.4% after averaging about 4% per year since COLAs became automatic in 1975.
According to TSCL studies, Social Security benefits have lost more than 31% of their buying power since 2000. “Yet the vast majority of seniors can’t absorb any loss in buying power,” Cates says. According to the Social Security Administration, 53% of senior households depend on Social Security for more than half of their income. The median income of seniors aged 65 and older is just $25,757 – only 220% above the federal poverty level for an individual.
Still, COLA cuts remain a key proposal of major debt reduction plans. In his budget last year, President Obama proposed changing the way COLAs are calculated by using a more slowly-growing measure of inflation, known as the “chained” CPI. “If our nation is going to correct income inequality, it should start with payroll taxes,” Cates says. “Under current law, millionaires pay no Social Security taxes at all on earnings over $117,000, while average workers pay Social Security taxes on every dime they earn,” Cates points out. “Cutting the benefits of financially vulnerable seniors and others can’t be justified when millionaires are getting a multibillion dollar tax break,” Cates asserts. “TSCL urges President Obama NOT to use Social Security COLAs to cut the debt,” he adds.