Article 43


Friday, May 13, 2022

Book: Moderizing CPI For The 21st Century

image: book modernizing cpi for the 21st century

The CPI has gone up 350% since 1978, but the price of a barrel of oil has risen 800% over the same time frame.
- Bad Moon Rising Part 46, 2012

The experts all discussed a better and more accurate inflation index for the elderly, called the CPI-E (E stands for elderly). It would track the inflation in expenses that primarily affect older people (such as medical, utilities and food), so the benefit increases tracking inflation would be tied to a better metric.
- Social Security Redux 2, 2013

The ridiculously conceived owners equivalent rent is supposed to capture home price inflation. This BLS rigged black box also accounts for the largest single weighting in the CPI calculation. Nothing like a made up number to give the BLS the most ability to manipulate the truth.
- Lies, Lies, and OMG More Lies, 2016

A basic flaw in US inflation data. They only count average price rises. But rich vs poor buy different things in different amounts in different stores. Inflation hurts them unequally. Using only one average inflation number hides the extra suffering inflation imposes on the majority. Flawed data hide capitalism’s flaws.
- Richard Wolff, Economist, 2022

The Consumer Price Index (CPI), produced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), is the most widely used measure of inflation in the U.S. It is used to determine cost-of-living allowances and, among many other important private- and public-sector applications, influences monetary policy. The CPI has traditionally relied on field-generated data, such as prices observed in person at grocery stores or retailers. However, as these data have become more challenging and expensive to collect in a way that reflects an increasingly dynamic marketplace, statistical agencies and researchers have begun turning to opportunities created by the vast digital sources of consumer price data that have emerged. The enormous economic disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, including major shifts in consumers’ shopping patterns, presents a perfect case study for the need to rapidly employ new data sources for the CPI.

Modernizing the Consumer Price Index presents guidance to BLS as the agency embarks on a strategy of accelerating and enhancing the use of scanner, web-scraped, and digital data directly from retailers in compiling the CPI. The report also recommends strategies for BLS to more accurately estimate the composition of households’ expenditures - or market basket shares - by updating this information more frequently and using innovative survey techniques and alternative data sources where possible. The report provides targeted guidance for integrating new data sources to improve the CPI’s estimation of changes in the prices of housing and medical care, two consumer expenditure categories that are traditionally difficult to measure. Because of the urgency of issues related to income and wealth inequality, the report also recommends that BLS identify data sources that would allow it to estimate price indexes defined by income quintile or decile.



How the CPI-E Compares With the CPI-W for the Annual Social Security COLA

By Devin Carroll
Social Security Intelligence

If the annual cost of living adjustments to benefits would have been based on the CPI-E, instead of the current CPI-W, the benefit increase in 2022 would be 1.1% lower!

Recently, the Social Security Administration announced yet another Social Security cost of living adjustment. And once again, the amount of the adjustment left some wondering why it wasnt higher.

The announcement ignited the same conversation and questions as it does every time. In the comments of my videos, my Facebook group, and on my website, many people say things like, ғMy expenses have increased a lot more than this cost of living adjustment, or, even more commonly, ԓThere has to be a better way to measure the increases to living expenses than the way its being done now!Ҕ

Given that its such a common response to the usual Social Security cost of living increases, I want to cover the proposal that may change how these adjustments are calculated.

How Social Security Benefits Cost of Living Adjustments Are Made Today

Right now, Social Security benefits are automatically adjusted every year. The Social Security Administration uses a certain measurement of inflation to determine if benefits should be increased or not.

The measurement they currently use is the CPI-W, which stands for the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers. This inflation gauge is compiled and published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Although they release this on a monthly basis, the Social Security Administration (SSA) only uses the data for the third quarter when making the adjustment to Social Security benefits. That means they look at the data for July, August, and September each year.

To determine a potential increase in Social Security benefits to match an increased cost of living, the SSA adds the sum of the index for the prior yearҒs third quarter and compares it to the sum of the third quarter index for the current year. If the difference between the two numbers is positive, Social Security benefits increase. If there is no increase in the CPI-W, then there is no cost of living adjustment for the year.

Its really pretty simple҅ but some folks believe its not very effective.

ThereҒs an argument against this way of determining cost of living adjustments for Social Security benefits.

Some say the CPI-W measurement method may not be the best because retirees spend their money very differently than individuals who are not retired. Retirees tend to spend more on healthcare and housing, and less on gasoline, education, and consumer electronics.

As a fix for this, it has been widely suggested that the Social Security Administration should discontinue basing the annual cost of living adjustments on the CPI-W and instead start using a measurement known as the CPI-E.

Considering Costs Specific to Retirees: The CPI-E Proposal

This version of the CPI is meant to track the expenses specifically for Americans who are 62 years of age or older. While both of these indexes measure the same categories of goods and services, they have different weightings to the categories.

So for example, the CPI-E factors in around 11% of its index to healthcare cost. The CPI-W, however, only counts 5.6% of the overall index as healthcare expenses. Since statistically, seniors spend more of their money on healthcare, an index that assigns a higher weighting should be more accurate to the way they spend money and experience inflation.

There are some other differences in weightings between the CPI-W and the CPI-E that may be significant for determining cost of living adjustments for Social Security benefits. In total, each index measures 8 main categories:

Food and beverages
Medical care
Education and communication
Other goods and services (for the stuff that doesnt fit anywhere else)

The big question here is, how does this affect the actual cost of living adjustment for benefits? Would it result in a larger benefit increase for seniors?

Using the CPI-E data available from December 1982, we can go back and do a year-by-year comparison with the CPI-W, the version thatҒs currently being used.

When viewed side by side, you can see that there are some years where the CPI-W was ahead, those are the red bars, but in most years the CPI-E was slightly higher.

If you average the difference between the two measurements since 1984, the CPI-E has been about 0.2% higher per year. So yes, in most years the CPI-E would yield a higher cost of living adjustment than the CPI-W, but there are some years (like the COLA announced for 2022) where the CPI-W was higher than the CPI-E.

The CPI-E Is Not A Magic Formula

This highlights the reluctuance of legislators to make this switch. On paper, it sounds good. An index that more accurately represent the expense of retirees should work better. But no politician wants to be responsible for making this switch in a year where the new method results in worse results.

Additionally, there are a few problems with the measurement method. First, the Bureau of Labor Statistics is very blunt about this being an experimentalӔ index. The Government Accountability Office also released a report this year that identified several issues with the potential accuracy of the CPI, and specifically mentioned the small sample size of the CPI-E as a factor.

The CPI-E sounds great to many folks who receive Social Security benefits and feel like their costs go up more than their Social Security income does. But ultimately, there is no magic formula that works well enough to keep everyone happy.

I know that with the current fiscal challenges that the Social Security system is facing, I wouldnt expect a more generous formula for increasing benefits. But as this conversation continues to develop, IҒll keep you informed right here.

If you still have questions, you could leave a comment below, but what may be an even greater help is to join my FREE Facebook members group. Its very active and has some really smart people who love to answer any questions you may have about Social Security. From time to time IҒll even drop in to add my thoughts, too.

Alsoif you havenŒt already, you should join the 356,000+ subscribers on my YouTube channel!

Here are some of the resources I used in creating this article:


Data on weightings in CPI-W vs CPI-E

CPI-W table

Monthly CPI Data (xls download in Data section)


Posted by Elvis on 05/13/22 •
Section Dying America
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