by Bill McBride on 9/14/2017 11:01:00 AM
The BLS reported this morning:
The Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W) increased 1.9 percent over the last 12 months to an index level of 239.448 (1982-84=100). For the month, the index increased 0.3 percent prior to seasonal adjustment.
CPI-W is the index that is used to calculate the Cost-Of-Living Adjustments (COLA). The calculation dates have changed over time (see Cost-of-Living Adjustments), but the current calculation uses the average CPI-W for the three months in Q3 (July, August, September) and compares to the average for the highest previous average of Q3 months. Note: this is not the headline CPI-U, and is not seasonally adjusted (NSA).
• In 2016, the Q3 average of CPI-W was 235.057.
The 2016 Q3 average was the highest Q3 average, so we only have to compare Q3 this year to last year. (Sometimes we have to look back two years).
For July and August 2017, the average is 239.0325 – or a 1.7% increase over the Q3 average last year. Inflation probably picked up a little in September due to the increase in gasoline prices following Hurricane Harvey, so COLA will probably be close to 2%.
This graph shows CPI-W since January 2000. The red lines are the Q3 average of CPI-W for each year.
Note: The year labeled for the calculation, and the adjustment is effective for December of that year (received by beneficiaries in January of the following year).
CPI-W was up 1.9% year-over-year in August, and although this is early – we still need the data for September – it appears COLA will be positive this year, and inflation probably picked up in September due to Hurricane Harvey and gasoline prices – so COLA will probably be close to 2% this year.
Contribution and Benefit Base
The law prohibits an increase in the contribution and benefit base if COLA is not greater than zero. However if the there is even a small increase in COLA (seems likely this year), the contribution base will be adjusted using the National Average Wage Index.
From Social Security: Cost-of-Living Adjustment Must Be Greater Than Zero
… … any amount that is directly dependent for its value on the COLA would not increase. For example, the maximum Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payment amounts would not increase if there were no COLA.
… if there were no COLA, section 230(a) of the Social Security Act prohibits an increase in the contribution and benefit base (Social Security’s maximum taxable earnings), which normally increases with increases in the national average wage index. Similarly, the retirement test exempt amounts would not increase …
The contribution base will be adjusted using the National Average Wage Index. This is based on a one year lag. The National Average Wage Index is not available for 2016 yet, but wages probably increased again in 2016. If wages increased the same as last year, then the contribution base next year will increase to around $131,500 from the current $127,200.
Remember – this is an early look. We still need the data for September, but it appears COLA will be close to 2%, and the contribution base will increase next year.