The proposed denial of any Social Security cost-of-living adjustment for 2010 by the Social Security Administration, for the first time in thirty-five years, represents nothing less than the betrayal of America's elderly by the very agency charged with protecting us.
The alleged reason for that denial, the lack of any significant rise in the consumer price index, is specious at best and dishonest at worst. The elderly are not able to spend their very limited incomes in the same way younger people do, but rather must use their funds to purchase items whose cost has been rising much faster than the general inflation rate.
For example, the average senior spends over $4,000 annually, out of pocket, on health care, the cost of which has been rising at double digit annual rates for decades, continuing to increase currently. Yet, the elderly spend less than the American average on gasoline, since they drive far fewer miles -- but the major factor holding down inflation as measured by the consumer price index has been temporarily-lower energy costs. Thus, seniors are spending considerably more of their incomes on items whose costs have in fact risen during 2009, such as food and higher property taxes and fees in many areas of the country. For the elderly, 2009 was one more year of inflation, continuing into 2010.
Speaking as an economist, it is very clear that the real income and purchasing power of America's elderly have been damaged by many aspects of the ongoing recession, such as drops in retirement plan values and payouts, loss of jobs which many seniors held, and the effects of the severe problems with housing and the housing market. Speaking as the former operator of an old age home in Vermont, as well as board member of a Meals on Wheels program there, I have seen firsthand the struggle of so many seniors to even survive financially. Speaking as a senior myself, I find it absolutely unconscionable and intolerable to freeze our limited social security payments while our government bails out the banks, giant corporations, and other recipients of well over a trillion dollars of government largesse. America, as a humane nation, should not show more concern for the wealthy than it does for those who have spent their lives helping to build our country.
While the Obama Administration has proposed another round of $250 stimulus checks which, if and when passed by Congress, would alleviate the social security freeze a bit, such payments, uncertain at this point, are only about one-third to one-half of the average annual cost of living increases in social security. They would be only one-shot payments. Cost of living adjustments, on the other hand, become a permanent part of our seniors' social security base. It is vital that Americans of all ages object immediately to this unfair and unwise denial by the Social Security Administration, petition Congress to reverse this unjustified decision, and ask the White House to exercise its leadership on behalf of America's elderly, who fully deserve -- and need -- their 2010 increase.