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The Impact of a Social Security Cost-of-Living Adjustment Reduction on the Income Distribution of the Elderly in the United States

Listed author(s):
  • Wade Pfau

In previous research, I find that a reduction of the cost-of-living adjustment has performed quite well in comparisons among different Social Security reform proposals. While a COLA reduction contains many positive features, there is some concern that it would push the most vulnerable members of the population into further poverty. In this paper, I use the Current Population Survey to simulate the effects of a COLA reduction on the incomes of a sample of aged units. I also consider modified COLA reduction plans that would apply only to certain ranges of ages. I find that COLA reductions can create significant effects on the incomes of the population, as once the COLA reduction is fully in effect, the incomes of some of the poorest elderly could be as much as 10% lower than at present. Nonetheless, the news is not entirely discouraging, as the savings of the COLA reduction to the Trust Fund are many times greater than the increased poverty that the COLA reduction would create. This leaves fertile ground to fashion a COLA reduction plan that includes income guarantees for the poorest members of the population, while also relieving a great deal of the future funding problems expected for the Trust Fund.

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Paper provided by Econometric Society in its series Econometric Society 2004 Far Eastern Meetings with number 694.

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Date of creation: 11 Aug 2004
Handle: RePEc:ecm:feam04:694
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  1. Casey B Mulligan, 1999. "Gerontocracy, Retirement, and Social Security," University of Chicago - George G. Stigler Center for Study of Economy and State 154, Chicago - Center for Study of Economy and State.
  2. Johnson, Richard W., 1999. "Distributional Implications of Social Security Reform for the Elderly: The Impact of Revising COLAs, the Normal Retirement Age, and the Taxation of Benefits," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 52(3), pages 505-530, September.
  3. Angus S. Deaton & Christina Paxson, 1998. "Measuring Poverty among the Elderly," NBER Chapters,in: Inquiries in the Economics of Aging, pages 169-204 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Johnson, Richard W., 1999. "Distributional Implications of Social Security Reform for the Elderly: The Impact of Revising COLAs, the Normal Retirement Age, and the Taxation of Benefits," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 52(n. 3), pages 505-30, September.
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