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Social Security's Five OASI Inflation Indexing Problems


  • Lovell, Michael C.


This paper examines five problems with the inflation indexing procedures used by the Social Security Administration of the United States in taking inflation into account when calculating Old Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) Benefits. Because of Problem #1, the commingling of unindexed with indexed earnings, a retiree born in 1930 who continued in a high earning career until age 75 receives an annual benefit more than $1,800 larger than would have been generated with full indexing. As a result of Problems #2 and #4 your OASI check will be larger if wage inflation happens to be extra high in your 60th year or if price inflation is exceptionally low in your 61st year. Because of the indexing problems, the percentage increase in your inflation (CPI-W) adjusted benefit if you elect to postpone retirement and the start of OASI benefits will depend in part on the pace of inflation. While inflation indexing problems do not attract much attention in normal times, they can contribute to serious short-run financial instability for the OASI trust fund in periods of substantial inflation or deflation.

Suggested Citation

  • Lovell, Michael C., 2008. "Social Security's Five OASI Inflation Indexing Problems," Economics Discussion Papers 2008-34, Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW).
  • Handle: RePEc:zbw:ifwedp:7410

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Gustman, Alan L. & Steinmeier, Thomas L., 2001. "How effective is redistribution under the social security benefit formula?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 82(1), pages 1-28, October.
    2. Martin Feldstein, 2005. "Rethinking Social Insurance," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(1), pages 1-24, March.
    3. Alicia H. Munnell & Dan Muldoon, 2008. "The Impact of Inflation on Social Security Benefits," Issues in Brief ib2008-8-15, Center for Retirement Research, revised Oct 2008.
    4. Rogerson, Richard & Wallenius, Johanna, 2009. "Micro and macro elasticities in a life cycle model with taxes," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 144(6), pages 2277-2292, November.
    5. James E. Duggan & Robert Gillingham & John S. Greenlees, 1996. "Distributional Effects of Social Security: the Notch Issue Revisited," Public Finance Review, , vol. 24(3), pages 349-370, July.
    6. Biggs, Andrew G. & Brown, Jeffrey R. & Springstead, Glenn, 2005. "Alternative Methods of Price Indexing Social Security: Implications for Benefits and System Financing," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 58(3), pages 483-504, September.
    7. Song, Jae G. & Manchester, Joyce, 2007. "New evidence on earnings and benefit claims following changes in the retirement earnings test in 2000," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 91(3-4), pages 669-700, April.
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    Cited by:

    1. Stefan Domonkos & Andras Simonovits, 2016. "Pensions in transition in EU11 countries between 1990 and 2015," IEHAS Discussion Papers 1615, Institute of Economics, Centre for Economic and Regional Studies, Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

    More about this item


    Social Security; inflation; indexing;

    JEL classification:

    • H55 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - Social Security and Public Pensions

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