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Friday, April 20, 2012

A Separate Consumer Price Index for the Elderly?

Linda Levine
Specialist in Labor Economics
The federal government, in an effort to protect the purchasing power of Social Security beneficiaries, indexes benefits to increases in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). Concern has periodically been expressed that the CPI-W may understate the impact of inflation on the elderly population and that it therefore may not be the most appropriate measure of inflation’s impact on the elderly.

At the behest of Congress, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) developed an experimental price index to track changes in the cost of living for the population aged 62 and older. In most years since 1982, the start of the experimental consumer price index (CPI-E) for the elderly, the annual rate of change in the CPI-E has exceeded that of the CPI-W and CPI-U. But, methodological limitations in the experimental index may have contributed to this pattern. Were BLS to construct an index that is more representative of the elderly population than the CPI-E, there is no guarantee that the relationship between the new index and the CPI-W would be the same.

Interest in the CPI-E most recently emerged in response to deficit-reduction plans issued in 2010 and 2011 that recommend inflation-indexed provisions in federal law be based on the Chained Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (C-CPI-U). Because the C-CPI-U has typically risen more slowly than the CPI-W, this proposal raised concern at the time among those Social Security recipients who already believe they have not been fully compensated for increases in their cost of living. Bills were then introduced to switch for purposes of Social Security indexation from the CPI-W to a CPI for those aged 62 and older (H.R. 456, H.R. 539, H.R. 776, H.R. 798, and S. 1876). As suggested by an amendment in the nature of a substitute to the FY2013 budget resolution in the House, interest has lingered into 2012 among some Members to switch to the C-CPI-U as a means of curbing the rate of growth in the budget deficit.

Date of Report: March 30 , 2012
Order Number: RS20060
Price: $29.95

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