An 8.7% Social Security cost-of-living adjustment for 2023 means beneficiaries received on average $140 per month more starting in January.
Now, new research from Bank of America Institute finds spending is growing faster among older generations that receive Social Security income.
For the week ended Feb. 18, individuals born in 1964 or before had household spending that increased between 4% and 6% year over year, versus 2% for all ages, according to Bank of America Institute.
The institute is a think tank within the bank that uses the firm’s internal proprietary data to evaluate consumer trends. Bank of America serves about 67 million clients, or about 1 in every 2 households, according to the firm.
Bank of America debit and credit card data showed older generations mostly spent at a similar pace to other generations for most of 2022. Since late November, however, spending growth for older generations exceeded the average, the research found.
Older generations may have raised their spending growth by up to 3 percentage points due to the Social Security cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, according to Bank of America Institute.
The Social Security COLA for 2023 was the highest bump in monthly checks beneficiaries have received in four decades.
About 70 million beneficiaries receive Social Security or Supplemental Security Income payments. Recipients not only include retirees but also disabled individuals and beneficiaries’ family members.
While the Social Security COLA for this year may help ease beneficiaries’ budgets, next year’s increase may not be as large.
Here are three key things to know.
1. Inflation has been ‘extremely difficult’ for retirees
While Social Security benefits are adjusted for inflation, there is a lag for when those changes kick in.
While the 2022 COLA adjustment was 5.9%, government inflation data showed costs grew at a faster pace for much of last year. Now, the 8.7% COLA for 2023 is outpacing current inflation, with a 5.8% increase over the past 12 months for the consumer price index for urban wage earners and clerical workers, or CPI-W. The Social Security Administration uses the CPI-W to calculate the annual COLA adjustment.
Older generations reduced their spending more during the pandemic compared to other generations, according to the institute.
“The average retiree has found living with these high rates of inflation extremely difficult,” said, David Tinsley, senior economist at Bank of America Institute.
Increased costs — for food, rent or utility bills, for example — has been particularly burdensome for low-income and older generation households, Tinsley noted.
“What this cost-of-living increase has done is allowed them some breathing space to move their spending higher,” he said. “But I don’t think anyone would pretend they aren’t facing quite a lot of pressure still.”
Ongoing surveys from The Senior Citizens League, a nonpartisan senior group, find the share of respondents carrying credit card debt for more than 90 days increased to 44% as of the first quarter, up from 35% in the third quarter of 2022.
“The theory is they should be [catching up], but it’s not that simple,” said Mary Johnson, Social Security and Medicare policy analyst at The Senior Citizens League.
2. Social Security COLA for 2024 may be far less
Based on current projections, the Social Security COLA for 2024 will likely be much lower than this year’s 8.7% due to cooling inflation, according to the league.
“Right now, it looks like the COLA for 2024 could dip below 3% and quite frankly, if that trend continues, it could go to even 2% or less,” Johnson said.
The Social Security Administration calculates the annual cost-of-living adjustment by determining the percentage increase in the CPI-W by comparing the average for the third quarter of the current year to the average of the third quarter of the previous year.
To have a COLA in 2024 would mean inflation is higher than it was last year, Johnson noted.
Instead, there may be a very minimal COLA for next year or even no COLA at all, she said.
“If we get any [COLA] at all, it simply means that inflation is coming down slowly,” Johnson said.
3. This year’s Social Security COLA may affect inflation
Higher spending prompted by the current 8.7% Social Security COLA may complicate efforts to bring inflation down.
A more generous Social Security COLA — and similar adjustments to pensions — encourages people to resume old purchasing patterns in the face of high inflation, Peter C. Earle, an economist at the American Institute for Economic Research, recently noted.
That comes as the Federal Reserve is working to tamp down inflation by raising interest rates.
“That is another factor complicating the Fed’s efforts,” Earle said of spending prompted by higher COLAs.
The central bank is expected to hike interest rates by a quarter point when it meets this week.