WASHINGTON — Social Security recipients will get a modest 1.3% cost-of living-increase in 2021, but that might be small comfort amid worries about the coronavirus and its consequences for older people.
The increase amounts to $20 a month for the average retired worker, according to estimates released Tuesday by the Social Security Administration. That's a little less than this year's 1.6% cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA.
The COLA affects the personal finances of about 1 in 5 Americans, including Social Security recipients, disabled veterans and federal retirees, some 70 million people in all.
The economic fallout from the virus has reduced tax collections for Social Security and Medicare, likely worsening their long-term financial condition. But there's been no real discussion of either program in the personally charged election contest between President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden.
With the just-announced COLA, the estimated average Social Security payment for a retired worker will be $1,543 a month next year. A typical couple's benefits would increase $33 to $2,596 per month.
People 65 and older went for Trump in 2016, but in this election some polls show Biden even with Trump among older voters, or ahead.
Trump has kept his promise not to cut Social Security benefits, but this summer he sent confusing signals with a plan to temporarily suspend collection of certain taxes that fund the program. While the White House staff said it was a limited measure that would have no lasting impact, Trump kept hinting to reporters that he had much bigger tax cuts in mind. Early in the year, he told an interviewer he wanted to tackle "entitlements," or benefit programs, in a second term.
Biden has a Social Security plan that would revamp the COLA and peg it to an inflation index that more closely reflects changes in costs for older people, particularly health care. That's been a priority for advocates. He would also increase minimum benefits for lower-income retirees, addressing financial hardship among the elderly.
The former vice president would raise Social Security taxes by applying the payroll tax to earnings above $400,000 a year. The 12.4% tax, equally distributed among employees and employers, currently only applies to the first $137,700 of a person's earnings. The tax increase would pay for Biden's proposed benefit expansions and also extend the life of program's trust fund by five years, to 2040, according to the nonpartisan Urban Institute.