Let me state this right up front – Chained CPI is a bad idea. A very bad idea. Former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich explains why here:
Even Social Security’s current inflation adjustment understates the true impact of inflation on the elderly. That’s because they spend 20 to 40 percent of their incomes on health care, and health-care costs have been rising faster than inflation. So why adopt a new inflation adjustment that’s even stingier than the current one?
Social Security benefits are already meager for most recipients. The median income of Americans over 65 is less than $20,000 a year. Nearly 70 percent of them depend on Social Security for more than half of this. The average Social Security benefit is less than $15,000 a year.
Dean Baker also explains why here (from The Nation 12/18/2012):
While this is a reasonable way to construct a price index, it may not be reasonable to apply the consumption patterns and the substitution patterns among the population as a whole to the elderly. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has constructed an experimental elderly index (CPI-E) which reflects the consumption patterns of people over age 62. This index has shown a rate of inflation that averages 0.2-0.3 percentage points higher than the CPI-W.
The main reason for the higher rate of inflation is that the elderly devote a larger share of their income to health care, which has generally risen more rapidly in price than other items. It is also likely that the elderly are less able to substitute between goods, both due to the nature of the items they consume and their limited mobility, so the substitutions assumed in the chained CPI might be especially inappropriate for the elderly population.
CNN Money seems to be in favor of Chained CPI but they add a significant caveat near the end:
By contrast, other liberal economists do see chained CPI as a more accurate inflation measure but say adjustments should be made to protect the most vulnerable from any hardships caused by the smaller benefit increases under chained CPI.
Obama has indicated he would support such adjustments, although he hasn’t specified what they would be.
One option could be a one-time increase to Social Security benefits for seniors once they’re in their 80s, said Goldwein, senior policy director at the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. Another option: Exempting Supplemental Security Income, which pays benefits to poor seniors and the disabled, from chained CPI.
My bold. Please note: IF YOU HAVE TO MAKE SPECIAL PROVISIONS FOR THE LOWEST INCOMES YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG!
I say again: IF YOU HAVE TO MAKE SPECIAL PROVISIONS FOR THE LOWEST INCOMES YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG!
The Center on Budget Policy and Priorities has a list of 10 basic facts about Social Security here. Facts #4, #6, and #7 are especially pertinent (though all are important):
Fact #4: Social Security benefits are modest.
Fact #6: Almost half of the elderly would be poor without Social Security. Social Security lifts 14 million elderly Americans out of poverty.
Fact #7: Most elderly beneficiaries rely on Social Security for the majority of their income.
This is a link to the Social Security Administration’s “Monthly Statistical Snapshot” (as of February 2013). As of February 2013, the average Social Security Retirement benefit is $1,264.88. This works out to be $15,221.28 per year. A mythical (non-existent) full-time minimum wage job ($7.25 x 40 hrs per week x 52 weeks) receives $15,080 per year. This is a blog post I wrote a couple of years ago showing how far the minimum wage goes these days. Short answer? Not very far at all. I tried to find the median Social Security benefit but was not able but given that the highest Social Security monthly benefit today is $2,513 for a person who retired at age 66 in 2012. In order to receive the highest monthly benefit, a person has to have earned maximum Social Security wages for their entire work life.
Once again, the people who will least need the use of Social Security are the ones most in favor of the cuts. For those who offer the cliche of “Everyone most have skin in the game” I will reply, “My skin in the game is all the years I have worked and earned Social Security and I will not see it destroyed so the 1% can avoid paying the bill that is now due from their “borrowing” of FICA wages to fund tax breaks.
I have not even mentioned the Veterans who will also be affected by Chained CPI. Their “skin” is the blank check they wrote when they signed their name and swore the oath of enlistment.
And because I can: