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Social Security COLA largest in decades as inflation jumps

Social Security COLA largest in decades as inflation jumps


Social Security COLA largest in decades as inflation jumps

WASHINGTON — Millions of retirees on Social Security will get a 5.9% boost in benefits for 2022. The biggest cost-of-living adjustment in 39 years follows a burst in inflation as the economy struggles to shake off the drag of the coronavirus pandemic.

The COLA, as it's commonly called, amounts to $92 a month for the average retired worker, according to estimates released Wednesday by the Social Security Administration. That marks an abrupt break from a long lull in inflation that saw cost-of-living adjustments averaging just 1.65% a year over the last 10 years.

With the increase the estimated average Social Security payment for a retired worker will be $1,657 a month next year. A typical couple’s benefits would rise by $154 to $2,753 per month.

“It goes pretty quickly,” retiree Cliff Rumsey said of the cost-of-living increases he's seen. After a career in sales for a leading steel manufacturer, Rumsey lives near Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. He cares at home for his wife of nearly 60 years, Judy, who has advanced Alzheimer's disease. Since the coronavirus pandemic, Rumsey said he has noted price increases for food, wages paid to caregivers who occasionally spell him and personal care products for Judy, not to mention energy costs.

The COLA affects household budgets for about 1 in 5 Americans. That includes Social Security recipients, disabled veterans and federal retirees, nearly 70 million people in all. For baby boomers who embarked on retirement within the last 15 years, it will be the biggest increase they've seen.

"It's going to be welcome," said analyst Mary Johnson of the nonpartisan Senior Citizens League advocacy group. “But what we are hearing is that even with the COLA, buying power will still be eroded because price increases are still going up.”

Policymakers say the COLA was designed as a safeguard to protect Social Security benefits against the loss of purchasing power in an ever-changing economy, and not a pay bump for retirees. About half of seniors live in households where Social Security benefits provide at least 50% of their income, and one-quarter rely on their monthly payment for all or nearly all their earnings.

“Regardless of the size of the COLA, you never want to minimize the importance of the COLA,” said retirement policy expert Charles Blahous, a former public trustee helping to oversee Social Security and Medicare finances. “What people are able to purchase is very profoundly affected by the number that comes out. We are talking the necessities of living in many cases.”