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Life in the Safety Net

8:20 am in Economy, Food, Government, Jobs, Politics, Social Security, Unemployment by dakine01

If you have been reading my posts, you know I am among the long term un/underemployed. I was laid off from my then employer in April 2004. I know most economists place the official start of the Great Recession in December 2007 but given their continual “surprise” at how the economy does not conform to their expectations, the reality is a bit different. When I was laid off, I had spent the past seven to eight years working within IT on various State and Local Government social service projects. Unfortunately for me, many states had started cutting back in this area starting around 2001. Declining tax revenues led to cut-backs to contracts led to further declining revenues, etc.
Picture13
Over the past nine years, I spent my unemployment benefits (I only received 6 months of unemployment benefits since my layoff preceded the official recession and advent of extended benefits.) I spent my savings. I cashed in my 401K and SEP/IRA (the best benefit there was even with paying the early cash-in penalties, I still got to spend more of the funds on myself instead of seeing the balances swirl down the toilet when the market crashed.) In 2007, I landed a part-time, online job that has been a god send.

I finally swallowed my pride in January of 2012 and applied for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits (formerly known as Food Stamps). I was approved for benefits of $200 per month from Florida from February 2012 through June 2012 when I would have to be re-certified. I did not re-certify at that time as I was dealing with my late sister’s estate by June and was able to pay myself a nominal salary. Since then, I have moved from Florida back to my home state of Kentucky. After I wrote this post in early July, documenting my soon to be homelessness, a friend from my hometown of Cynthiana, KY offered me a room in her home for Dan’l (my cat) and me. I am paying a nominal rent, my share of the utilities plus helping around the house. I have since applied for SNAP benefits here in Kentucky. I was initially denied due to lack of information, then approved for $159 per month then after a review after the state had received the remainder of my supporting information, the benefit amount was upgraded to $189 per month starting November 1. I do not know if the cuts to the over all SNAP program will affect my benefits but if there is a cut, so be it. I am fortunate enough to know how to cook and purchase food for myself so I can generally live within the benefit. I most likely would have to cut out the occasional treat of cookies or soda.

At this point, I am just trying to hang on until I reach age 62 next June and can apply for early Social Security. According to the SSA, my benefit for Social Security at age 62 is $1,371, a little above the current average overall benefit of $1,271 (as of September 2013.)

I do not have a car any longer. Maybe next year when I start the social security, between that and my small salary from my online job, I might be able to buy something (and pay the taxes and title and upkeep and maintenance and gas and insurance.) Once I am collecting social security, I will most likely no longer qualify for SNAP benefits and that’s OK as I will have been able to use them to stay alive until I reached the “retirement” point.

Through all of this, I know I am still luckier than most. I have received help from family and friends that has kept a roof over my head. I am relatively healthy having had only a bad case of the flu back in early 2005 that I saw a doctor for, a cut on my hand in December 2005 that required an emergency room visit for four stitches (costing roughly $2,000 out-of-pocket as I am uninsured), and an infected tooth pulled at the dentist’s in January 2013 for $175. The dentist gave me a ‘scrip for free antibiotics to clear the infection before he pulled the tooth.

While I have been fortunate in many ways, I also know I am not alone. There are 900K veterans and 5K active military receiving SNAP benefits alone who will be impacted by the upcoming cut to the benefit level.

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The Concern Trolls Very Serious People Are Out

11:38 am in Government, Politics, Social Security by dakine01

Damn but just when I reach a point where I think things can’t get any stoopider inside the Beltway, we have a week like this one with the release of President Obama’s “budget” and once again the reality of stoopid is even worse than imagined.

Word leaked last Friday (April 5) that Chained CPI was going to be part of President Obama’s budget, prompting me to point out a simple truth, “A Bad Idea Is a Bad Idea, No Matter Who Proposes It.” Of course, starting Monday, all the usual suspects and even a few somewhat surprising suspects started pushing the idea as a wonderful thing, maybe even as good as sliced bread.

The first cheers I saw, came from the Wall Street Journal. It is difficult to detail all the errors in this piece but it starts with the idea that Social Security has any bearing on the Budget in the first place the goes on to “explain” why Chained CPI is just such a good idea:

The chain-weighted CPI registers slower inflation than the usual CPI because it allows for the substitution effect of price changes. When the cost of one item rises, consumers switch to a similar product that has not risen in price (or not increased as much). The substitution can occur intra-item (whole wheat bread instead of white bread) and inter-item (beer versus wine). The chained CPI takes the shifts into its calculation; the traditional CPI does not.

Of course, these types of discussions never point out how the folks who are already “substituting” are supposed to pay for price increases, just as it fails to recognize the basic facts of Social Security, including the fact that the average monthly benefit is $1,264 per month, which is barely more than a minimum wage job pays and we all know how richly you can live on minimum wage. (Yes, that’s snark.)

Scrap the Cap on Social Security

Scrap the Cap on Social Security

The Washington Post also is on the bandwagon and loving them some Chained CPI, once again pretending that Social Security is a part of the overall Federal Budget:

Most important, the president committed himself in writing to more than $100 billion in Social Security spending restraint over the next decade, along with $400 billion in health program reductions.

Ruth Marcus yesterday earned her WaPo0 money by being oh so very concerned with how the Republicans react to the President:

The conundrum of President Obama’s budget is that he has produced a “come let us reason together” proposal aimed at a Republican Party that has demonstrated no interest in being reasonable.

On Tuesday, Jared Bernstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities wrote a blog post comparing Paul Ryan’s “budget” with the President’s by stating that if Ryan’s budget is (self-described) as visionary, then the president’s is “strategic.” Bernstein quotes his colleague, Robert Greenstein (President of CBPP) who produced a statement in favor of President Obama’s budget, and specifically, in favor of Chained CPI.

I can’t begin to detail all the errors in Greenstein’s statement but will try to address the most egregious ones. First off:

As it stands, the package makes tough policy choices while largely adhering to the principle, as enunciated by the Bowles-Simpson commission, that deficit reduction should not increase poverty or inequality. Nevertheless, the budget’s substantial spending cuts, both in entitlements and discretionary programs, would have real-world consequences for millions of individuals and families.

While there was a Bowles-Simpson commission, there was nothing “enunciated” by the commission as there was no report since the recommendations could not achieve the necessary vote count to be accepted as official. And once again, we have someone who should know better (and most likely does) trying to conflate Social Security as part of the overall Federal Budget.

Then there’s:

Experts widely regard the chained CPI as a more accurate measure of inflation for the population as a whole. It may well be, however, less accurate for elderly individuals and many low-income people and, thus, understate the inflation that they face.

What experts are saying this? The best I have found is that the NY Times had an article claiming this that they would later correct as Dean Baker points out here.

Reuters presents it as The Grand Bargain while the Christian Science Monitor presents it as a great idea because liberals are angry so that must mean it is bi-partisany or something.

Tiger Beat On the Potomac (h/t Mr Pierce) of all people, actually gets to the nut in their lede:

President Barack Obama says he’ll protect the most vulnerable seniors from his “chained CPI” proposal – but he’s not going to protect everyone. Not even all seniors.

The White House, fighting back against liberal critics who say he’s giving away too much, released details Wednesday of the protections Obama would include to make sure older seniors and low-income people don’t get hurt by lower benefits.

There it is. As I said the other day and will say many more times I’m sure, IF YOU HAVE TO MAKE SPECIAL PROVISIONS TO ASSURE PEOPLE ARE NOT HURT, YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG.

Such a simple damn concept. But of course, with all the people doing the cheerleading, none of them are people who actually have to live on Social Security so for them, it is only an intellectual exercise, not reality.

And because I can:

Cross posted from Just A Small Town Country Boy by Richard Taylor
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A Bad Idea Is a Bad Idea, No Matter Who Proposes It

1:26 pm in Social Security by dakine01

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.

Scrap the Cap on Social Security

Scrap the Cap on Social Security

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:

Cross posted from Just A Small Town Country Boy by Richard Taylor
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Jobs and Social Security

8:44 am in Economy, Financial Crisis, Jobs, Media, Politics, Social Security, Unemployment by dakine01

Job forms

Unemployment is up a fraction of a percent.

The January Jobs reports are out and for once, there is a modicum of (somewhat) good news. The Labor Department reported 157K new jobs for January 2013 and significantly revised both November and December 2012 numbers upwards:

Employers added 157,000 jobs in January, the Labor Department said, which was right in line with analyst expectations. The best news, though, was that revised estimates put job creation in November and December much higher than earlier estimated; the nation added a whopping 247,000 jobs in November and 196,000 in December, revisions that place those numbers a combined 127,000 jobs above earlier estimates.

The unemployment rate ticked up to 7.9 percent, from 7.8 percent, however, as both the number of people reporting having a job and the number looking for one edged up.

I’m sure we will hear a lot about how the January figures were “…right in line with analyst expectations” given how they are usually “surprised” that their predictions are wrong.

The .1% uptick in the unemployment rate (from 7.8% to 7.9% is not all that much of a surprise – or shouldn’t be – if the economy truly is improving after all these years. The BLS U6 figure for the un/underemployed and marginally attached folks was unchanged at 14.4% (a figure that I believe is low but can’t prove). Bloomberg reported the jobs news as:

Sustained hiring gains will give incomes a lift, buffering American workers from the sting of higher payroll taxes and helping them keep spending. At the same time, bigger employment advances are needed to drive down a jobless rate that Federal Reserve officials say is too high.

We can but hope Bloomberg is correct in this analysis that incomes will be lifted.

This past Wednesday, ADP reported 192K private sector jobs for January (versus 166K reported by BLS – see Bloomberg link).

One of the areas that seems to escape a lot of notice is how the jobs reports impacts the Social Security Trust Fund. Bloomberg touches on this with the mention of higher wages offsetting “…the sting of higher payroll taxes” but still seems to miss how higher employment will provide more funds to keep Social Security running without needing to be “fixed.”

Of course, this in no way will stop people like Robert Samuelson of the Washington Post from offering up his fantasy of cutting Social Security as part of a “sequestration”:

To be effective, a sequester has to hit millions of Americans so hard that, if it took effect, mobs of outraged voters would storm Capitol Hill.

Here’s my modest proposal to do that. Unless congressional negotiators agreed on at least $1 trillion in deficit cuts over a decade — personally, I’d go higher — then the desired amount would be raised in two ways: half from across-the-board income-tax increases and half from across-the-board Social Security cuts. People would see their take-home pay and retiree benefits reduced. There would be no mystery.

…snip…

It won’t happen. Truth in journalism: I have proposed this before. There were no takers. It would astonish me if there were any now. But the point is that there is a path to agreement. The fact that our so-called leaders don’t take it reflects their calculation that disagreeing is better politics.

Thankfully, he has had no takers so he has a sad

Allison Linn at NBC News offers a counter to Samuelson and his gibberish with this report of a survey with results that fly in the face of so much Beltway Conventional Wisdom:

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Today’s Anti-Social Security Propaganda

8:40 am in Economy, Government, Jobs, Media, Politics, Social Security, Unemployment by dakine01

FDR Quote on Social Security

FDR Quote on Social Security

Well, it looks like there is a new push on in the long term destruction of Social Security today. Now, I usually write about the plight of the long term unemployed and underemployed but I am getting close to Social Security eligibility so decided I would discuss the anti Social Security effort today.

I’ll start with Fact Free Fred Hiatt’s Concern Troll op-ed in today’s (Monday, January 28) Washington Post. It seems Mr Hiatt wants to offer his advice to President Obama on “entitlement reform” using the guise of how Democrats and Republicans view the past four years:

To achieve a fiscal compromise, Obama agreed in 2011 negotiations with House Speaker John Boehner to changes in Social Security that would be anathema to liberals, but Boehner walked away from the talks.
…snip…

Both histories are factually correct. That coherent accounts can be written either way ought to suggest to partisans that neither version is quite the slam-dunk they imagine.

At a minimum, it ought to propel the White House to continue acting in the national interest, whichever party that seems to serve. And for a long time, Obama has said the national interest requires both revenue increases and reform of entitlement programs.

Once again, Mr Hiatt and the Post are pushing the myth that Social Security is a part of the overall Federal Budget and needs to be “controlled” to “fix the deficit” when in fact, Social Security loans to the Genera Fund have been propping up the Federal Budget for decades, allowing for the tax cuts over the years.

While I expect this type of nonsense from the Washington Post, today’s Tampa Bay Times had a decidedly misleading headline (“US spends far more on seniors than on kids.”) How is it misleading?

In 2008, all government (local state, and federal) spent $26,255 on average for each person 65 or older, most of which is Social Security and Medicare.

The blurb on children spending:

Conversely, the federal government spends relatively little on children and Medicaid is the largest single item. State and local governments spend much more on children because they pay for schools. But overall, governments spend far more than double on seniors than they do on children 18 and younger.

Finally, at the very bottom of this post, the Times offers a couple of caveats to offset the misleading nature of their headline and opening:

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Let’s Play With Some Numbers, Social Security Edition

1:03 pm in Social Security by dakine01

We need to get this to the Fiscal Cliff! What could go wrong?

We need to get this to the Fiscal Cliff! What could go wrong?

Boy howdy, but did I make a mistake this morning. I made the mistake of allowing myself to become distracted while I was “multi-tasking” and surfing the cable channels at the same time I was checking my emails AND getting a phone call. All of a sudden, I realized I was on MSNBC and listening to Moanin’ Joe where the topic of the day appeared to be whining about how those dastardly libruls just wouldn’t get with the program and worship at the altar of Pete Peterson (as Joe declared he does.)

Then I saw someone by the name of Rick Stengel talking about how “entitlements” needed to be cut in order for everyone to show how “serious” they are with the “fiscal cliff.”

Of course, everyone that was on that show this morning (it included Harold Ford, Steven Rattner, Michael Steele, Disco Dave, Tweety, and Chuck Todd) as well as everyone on all the various talking head shows watched by the Beltway Village Idiots Courtiers are people who will never have to worry about living on Social Security as the only thing keeping them from poverty and homelessness, so they are all fine with most any and all changes being discussed. After all, they are all Very Serious People, often wrong but never in doubt. Why, we could almost call them all “economists” they are wrong so often.

A couple of years ago, I wrote this post, “Let’s Play With Some Numbers” as a “what-if” about the mythical person working the mythical full time, minimum wage job and what that person might be able to afford as far as a place to live, and associated costs.

Why is this pertinent?

Well, the current average monthly Social Security payment (for October 2012) is $1,237 per month which works out to be $14,844 per year. This will go up to $1,261 in 2013. Where I had my mythical full time minimum wage earner paying FICA/Medicare taxes, other taxes (and some healthcare costs) and missing work on the “Big 6″ holidays (New Years Day, Memorial Day, July 4, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas) before getting into the actual available funds to pay bills (lowering the income from $15,080 by $2,570 to $12,510), the mythical average Social Security recipient pays $99.90 per month for Medicare Part B starting at age 65, going up to $104.90 for 2013.

The point of all this is that a mythical person collecting average Social Security benefits is in roughly the same position financially as the mythical person who works a mythical full time minimum wage job. My WAG is that for every person who is collecting Social Security and also has the benefits of a defined pension, 401K, or robust savings, there is another person who is relying solely and completely on Social Security and Medicare to stay alive. With the Great Recession having taken its toll these past few years, I imagine there are many people just trying to hold on until they reach age 62 and can start collecting something. I imagine there are many more, like myself, who have had to cash in their 401k/IRAs early just to try to stay alive for these past few years.

So let’s remind the Beltway Village Idiots Politicians, Pundits, and Courtiers that there are real world consequences when they so blithely toss around “cut entitlement spending” as a “solution to the deficit.” As Mr Pierce puts it so eloquently, “Fck the deficit. People got no jobs. People got no money.”
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