Research & Analysis by Clark Burdick
Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI, Social Security) benefits are indexed for inflation to protect beneficiaries from the loss of purchasing power implied by inflation. In the absence of such indexing, the purchasing power of Social Security benefits would be eroded as rising prices raised the cost of living. Recently, the Consumer Price Index used to calculate the Cost-of-Living-Adjustment (COLA) for OASDI benefits has come under increased scrutiny. Some argue that the current index does not accurately reflect the inflation experienced by seniors and that COLAs should be larger. Others argue that the measure of inflation underlying the COLA has technical limitations that cause it to overestimate changes in the cost of living and that COLAs should be smaller. This article discusses some of the issues involved with indexing Social Security benefits for inflation and examines the ramifications of potential changes to COLA calculations.
The 2003 Trustees Report on the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance and Disability Insurance Trust Funds contains, for the first time, results from a stochastic model of the combined trust funds of the OASDI programs. To help interpret the new stochastic results and place them in context, the Social Security Administration's Office of Policy arranged for three external modeling groups to produce alternative stochastic results. This article demonstrates that the stochastic models deliver broadly consistent results even though they use significantly different approaches and assumptions. However, the results also demonstrate that the variation in trust fund outcomes differs as the approach and assumptions are varied.