Gripes without merit

Editor's note: The following editorial appeared last week in The (Rock Hill) Herald.

Senior citizens learned this week that they will not get an inflation-adjusted increase in their Social Security payments again this year. But with inflation holding steady, why should they?

The government announced Friday that more than 58 million Social Security recipients will go through a second straight year without an increase in monthly benefits. This year was the first without an increase since the automatic adjustments for inflation started in 1975.

The cost of living adjustments -- or COLAs -- were a valid attempt to shield elderly Americans on fixed incomes from rising inflation. Without such adjustments, seniors could buy less and less as the value of a dollar shrank.

But inflation has not been a problem for the past two years. In fact, the chief fear of some economists is that deflation is a more likely threat in the near future.

That essentially means the cost of living has remained relatively constant since 2008. While the cost of some goods and services has risen, the increase has been offset by lower cost of others.

Some groups will be hit harder by rising costs than others. For example, seniors may suffer more from the rise in prescription drug prices, which have risen faster than the average rate of inflation.

But seniors may benefit from the lower cost of other goods, such as clothing.

However, seniors are not alone in having to cope with uncertain economic times. Other age groups, particularly young families, are even more vulnerable.

Seniors are on a fixed income, but many no longer are making car and house payments or supporting children. While Social Security is the primary source of income for 64 percent of retirees, only a third relied on Social Security for at least 90 percent of their incomes. Two-thirds supplement their income from other sources, including pensions and savings.

Observers say Democrats controlling Congress are likely to take a political hit from senior voters because of anger over not getting an increase in benefits for two years running. In truth, though, Congress had nothing to do with the decision.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides inflation estimates, and the formula determines whether COLAs are appropriate or not. If it weren't automatic, incumbents no doubt would be happy to raise benefits every year they were up for re-election.

We understand the disappointment of seniors. But we measure that against the disappointment of millions of other working Americans who haven't received raises and aren't likely to next year.

Older or younger, we're in this together.