News is out today that a deal to avert the fiscal cliff is nigh. The New York Times is reporting that President Obama’s latest offer, which is close to Speaker Boehner’s dreams and desires, will permanently extend the Bush tax cuts on income below $400,000 and raise them above that bracket. In return, there will be spending cuts. One big component of those cuts is a change in how Social Security benefits are calculated, shifting to using the chained CPI. What sounds like a complex accounting measure will mean a serious benefit reduction for those who are elderly and impoverished. And guess who will get hit hardest? If your guess rhymes with schwomen, you’re correct.
First, what is chained CPI? Currently Social Security benefits are adjusted to account for inflation, but there are many different measures of inflation. If the fiscal cliff deal includes a switch to a chained CPI, it will mean using a measure that tries to take into account human behavior in reaction to price increases—specifically, the substitution for something cheaper if the price of what you normally buy goes up. If provolone costs a fortune, perhaps I’ll switch to Swiss. Unfortunately for the elderly, they buy products that don’t behave much like provolone. As Dean Baker explains, the elderly spend more of their money on health care, which has seen costs far outpace the costs of cheese, and are also generally less likely to be able to make substitutions on what they buy.
[Continued at the Nation]