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CRS – Social Security: Cost-of-Living Adjustments

Social Security: Cost-of-Living Adjustments, Gary Sidor, Information Research Specialist, November 8, 2012

  • “To compensate for the effects of inflation, Social Security recipients received cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) through the legislative process sporadically from 1950 to 1974, and automatically through a trigger mechanism in all but two years from 1975 to 2012. No adjustment was made in 2010 and 2011. Benefits will be increased by 1.7% in 2013, after an increase of 3.6% in 2012. The Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W), updated monthly by the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), is the measure that can trigger a change. The Social Security COLA is based on the percentage change in the index from the highest third calendar quarter average CPI-W recorded (most often, from the previous year) to the average CPI-W for the third calendar quarter of the current year. The COLA becomes effective in December of the current year and is payable in January of the following year. (Social Security payments always reflect the benefits due for the preceding month.) If there is no percentage increase in the CPI-W between the measuring periods, no COLA is payable.”
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