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Robert Reich

Chained CPI for Social Security would hurt seniors

Using a chained consumer price index to adjust Social Security benefits for inflation would make it even harder for seniors to keep up with the cost of health care. So why are Democrats proposing it? 

By Guest blogger / April 4, 2013

Democrats are proposing a new way of calculating Social Security benefits, but it's a bad idea for seniors.

The White House and prominent Democrats are talking about reducing future Social Security payments by using a formula for adjusting for inflation that’s stingier than the current one. It’s called the “Chained CPI.” I did this video so you can understand it — and understand why it’s so wrongheaded.  

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Robert is chancellor’s professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Clinton. Time Magazine named him one of the 10 most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written 13 books, including “The Work of Nations,” his latest best-seller “Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future," and a new e-book, “Beyond Outrage.” His new movie, "Inequality for All," is available on Netflix. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause.

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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.

Besides, Social Security isn’t in serious trouble. The Social Security trust fund is flush for at least two decades. If we want to ensure it’s there beyond that, there’s an easy fix — just lift the ceiling on income subject to Social Security taxes, which is now $113,700.

Why are Democrats even suggesting the inflation adjustment be reduced? Republicans aren’t asking for it. Not even Paul Ryan’s draconian budget includes it.

Democrats invented Social Security and have been protecting it for almos 80 years.They shouldn’t be leading the charge against it.

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