It’s official: The 2019 cost of living adjustment for Social Security will be 2.8%, according to the Social Security Administration.
The increase is the largest since 2012, when the COLA was 3.6%, and it tops this year’s 2% level. The average Social Security beneficiary collecting $1,404 a month will receive an additional $39 starting in January, as a result of the 2.8% increase.
The COLA is based on the change in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers, known as CPI-W, between the third quarter of 2017 and the third quarter of 2019. After the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the September CPI increase, at 0.1%, on Thursday morning, the Social Security Administration had all the information needed to calculate the 2019 COLA, which it promptly announced.
In addition to the 2019 COLA, the SSA announced that for the first time Social Security and SSI beneficiaries will be able to view their COLA notice online through their my Social Security account, which can been accessed at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount, and that the maximum earnings amount subject to the Social Security tax in 2019 will be $132,900. That’s 3.5% higher than the $128,400 maximum for 2018 and is based on the increase in average wages, according to the SSA.
Although retiree organizations welcomed the 2019 COLA news, several noted in statements that the 2.8% increase is not enough adequately to cover rising health care, prescription drug and housing costs.
The Alliance for Retired Americans, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare and The Senior Citizens League all released statements urging Congress to change the basis used to calculate the annual Social Security COLA from the CPI-W to CPI-E, which is the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly.
“The CPI-E is based more on health care and housing costs, things that seniors actually spend their money on,” said Richard Fiesta, executive director of the Alliance for Retired Americans. The Alliance supports two pending House bills — the Social Security 2100 Act and CPI-E Act of 2017 — which would require the use of the CPI-E in COLA calculations.
A recent study by The Senior Citizens League focused on price changes in the goods and services that retirees typically purchase found that Social Security benefits have lost 34% of their buying power since 2000. Although the Social Security COLA has increased benefits by 46% since 2000, typical expenses of retiree households have grown just over 96%. Medicare Part B, prescription drug out-of-pocket costs and Medigap premiums are among the top ten fastest-growing costs since 2000.
How much of the new COLA will be spent on those health care-related costs won’t be known until retirees receive notices of those increases for next year. Medicare Part B costs will likely be announced within the next month.
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