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Social Security COLA Could Be Zero in 2017, Senior Group Fears

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With inflation running low, a group that advocates for 1.2 million retired veterans and other seniors says older Americans should expect another year of bad news when it comes to Social Security cost-of-living adjustments.

The Senior Citizens League “is concerned,” according to Chairman Ed Cates. “There appears to be a high risk of either an extremely low annual cost–of–living adjustment (COLA) next year, or worse — none at all.”

COLAs are based on changes in the third-quarter Consumer Price Index for urban consumers and go into effect each January. The CPI-U rose just 0.4% in April from a year earlier. The League argues that the CPI-U doesn’t accurately capture the rising prices of goods and services valuable to seniors, like health care, leaving retirees falling behind.

Since 2000, Social Security benefits have risen 43%, accounting for COLAs and compounding, but typical senior expenses have jumped 75.3%, according to the group.

“Going without any COLA in 2016 has long-term consequences for retirees when real costs continue to climb,” Cates explained in a statement. “People must spend down retirement savings more quickly than expected, and those without savings are either going into debt, or going without.”

Older Americans and disabled Social Security recipients had no COLA last year. However, the group’s research finds that “lower inflation didn’t translate into lower household expenses,” it says.

In the group’s 2016 Survey of Senior Costs, 72% of respondents said their monthly expenses rose by more than $79.

“With today’s Social Security benefit averaging $1,230 per month, that’s an unsustainable level when there’s no benefit increase to match,” Cates explained.

Furthermore, the group says, Social Security recipients have lost 23% of their buying power since 2000, according to its 2016 survey, which was released Wednesday. Except for higher medical and prescription drug costs, overall prices have changed very little in the past year, the group says.

Monthly Matters

The average monthly Social Security benefit in 2000 was $816. This rose to $1,166.30 by 2016. However, an individual really needs $1,430.50 in 2016 “just to maintain his or her 2000 buying power,” according to the organization.

The Senior Citizens League’s research looked at higher prices of 38 popular items over the past six years. “Of the 38 costs analyzed, 29 exceeded the amount of increase in the COLA over the same period,” the group said.

“This study illustrates why Congress should enact legislation to provide an emergency COLA this year,” Cates added in a statement. “To put it in perspective, for every $100 worth of expenses seniors could afford in 2000, they can afford just $77 today.”

The group points out that most of the 57 million senior and disabled Americans receiving Social Security depend on it for at least 50% of their total income, and one in four needs it for at least 90% of their total income.

— Check out No Social Security COLA in 2016: Higher Medicare Premiums for Your Clients on ThinkAdvisor.


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