Social Security isn’t going anywhere. Not yet, anyway.
Monthly payments for 64 million retired American workers will increase 1.7 percent in 2015, the Social Security Administration announced Wednesday. That means the typical retiree will get an extra $22 per month, receiving a $1,328 average monthly payment and $15,936 annually.
“The 1.7 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) will begin with benefits that more than 58 million Social Security beneficiaries receive in January 2015,” The Social Security Administration said in the announcement. “Increased payments to more than 8 million SSI [Supplemental Security Income] beneficiaries will begin on December 31, 2014. The Social Security Act ties the annual COLA to the increase in the Consumer Price Index as determined by the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics."
The increase coincides with the Labor Department’s monthly Consumer Price Index release for September. Thanks largely to falling energy costs, CPI increased just 0.1 percent last month and (you guessed it) 1.7 percent from last year. Food costs, however, jumped 3 percent, meaning the overall increase may be more acutely felt by seniors who don't commute to work every day (thus getting less relief from the drop in gas prices).
This is the third straight COLA increase for Social Security recipients. This year’s cost of living increase was 1.5 percent; in 2012, it was a comparatively giant 3.2 percent. There were no benefits increases during the two previous years because consumer prices fell during the recession.
The SSA announced other changes as well. Based on wage increases, the maximum amount of earnings subjected to the Social Security taxes will increase to $118,500 from $117,000. The SSA estimates that out of 168 million workers who pay Social Security taxes, around 10 million will pay higher taxes because of the hike in the taxable minimum.
As in other years, this year’s increase comes amid worries about the long-term future of Social Security and Americans’ financial readiness for their retirement years. The Social Security Trust fund is projected to run out by 2033, according to an SSA Trustee report released this year, and the oncoming rush of retiring and aging Baby Boomers are expected to create steep budgetary problems in the coming years. Some 80 percent of Millennials and Gen-Xers don’t expect to receive anything from Social Security after their working years, according to a study released by the TransAmerica Center for Retirement Studies over the summer.
There are concerns in the short term as well. By at least one measure, retirees in 49 of 50 states aren’t replacing enough of their pre-retirement income. Social Security makes up about 38 percent of total income for the elderly, according to the SSA, and 52 percent of married couples and 74 percent of unmarried persons receive over half their income from Social Security.
For 1 in 3 retirees, it is their only income source. Basic costs of living, especially food prices, continue to balloon, and nearly 10 percent of retirees live in poverty, according to the Census Bureau.
Still, there is some cause for optimism. Perhaps because of their doubts, younger workers (at least the ones with access to employee-sponsored accounts) are shaping up to be excellent savers, and not all is lost with Social Security in general. Despite the trust fund depletion and funding shortfalls, the SSA still anticipates being able to pay 75 percent of scheduled benefits between 2033 and 2088.