COLA not cutting it for seniors

Most Social Security recipients are rightly disappointed in the 1.6 percent cost-of-living increase that they will be receiving in 2020.

As in most years of the recent past, they will complain that the “yardstick” for determining if they will receive an increase — and if so, how much that increase will be — is a poor barometer for the cost increases with which they actually live, day in and day out.

By utilities alone — heating, water, electricity and sanitary-sewer bills — retirees’ Social Security “raises” usually are largely consumed, and for many, the challenges in paying for medical care become more pressing each year rather than less.

Because the monthly increase for the average retired worker next year will amount to a mere $24, it hardly will be noticeable.

If a Medicare premium increase is implemented at the same time the raise kicks in — Medicare’s Part B premium for 2020 outpatient care hasn’t yet been announced — the cost-of-living increase will be viewed more as a facade than an actual benefit.

At this point, the only consolation might be that 2020 is a presidential and legislative election year, and incumbents probably will be trying to curry favor with the senior citizen constituency that usually boasts a reasonably strong voter turnout.

Thus, there perhaps will be an announcement next October of a 2021 cost-of-living adjustment closer to — or perhaps higher than — the 2.8 percent increase that was granted for 2019.

But without a promise that a more accurate way of gauging seniors’ real cost-of living increases beyond 2021, seniors probably should resign themselves to anticipate “pittance increases” for at least a couple of years beyond then.

Of course, hanging over Social Security is that, without a change in the funding mechanism, there might not be enough money to pay full benefits starting in about 2035.

However, the senior citizen constituency between now and then isn’t going to be convinced by Washington poor-mouthing, having witnessed the massive tax cut, mostly to corporations and the wealthiest Americans, under the leadership of President Donald Trump and the then-Republican-controlled Congress.

Already, there appear to be cracks in the purportedly strong economic benefits that the tax cut was meant to provide. However, for seniors, dealing with “cracks” in their ability to meet their financial obligations has been a steady challenge, thanks at least in part to the Social Security cost-of-living-increase determinant that is deeply flawed.

Still, regarding Social Security and Medicare, there are grounds for much skepticism and concern regarding the proposals being pushed by some of the Democratic presidential candidates who, rather than advancing plans displaying reality and promise, instead promote ideas lacking a chance for adoption, even if Democrats were to end up controlling Congress and the White House.

In its Oct. 5-6 edition, the Wall Street Journal noted a 2018 Pew Research Center poll showing that 78 percent of Democrats and 68 percent of Republicans opposed cuts in future Social Security benefits.

But the point on which to focus now should be that many seniors are destined to continue struggling, and next year’s COLA isn’t going to provide much solace for that fight.

For now, getting a little bit of additional money each month is better than getting nothing, even if being rich in disappointment happens to be most seniors’ only measure of wealth.


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