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Inflation alert: Are you on the Titanic or the iceberg?

If you’ve picked up the habit of eating every day, if you wear clothes in public or if you get around by trains, planes or automobiles, you’ve probably noticed prices are going up. Up for everything from basic to luxury items. Whether the big jump in prices is because of climate change, supply chain problems, lack of workers or other things matters a great deal to politicians, journalists and people in academia. You just want to know why after years of 2-to-3% per year inflation, the cost of living adjustment jumped in the last 12 months. The biggest increase since 1990.

People who get Social Security, retired military pay or federal Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) annuity are in good shape. At least compared to private sector workers whose pensions were frozen when they retired. Or they don’t have a pension, period.

The January cost of living adjustmnent for most retired feds, military and Social Security reciepents will be 5.9%. While that won’t exactly cover rising costs for everything, it will go a long way to help the seniors keep pace. But the keyword is “most.” Most current retirees are under the old CSRS system, which promises to keep up with inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index.

So far so good. But…

Almost all current federal workers, plus a growing number of new retirees, are under the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) program. There is a permanent battle between FERS (with its generous 5% employer match to the TSP and Social Security coverage) and CSRS retirees who start off with much higher annuities (which they help finance) than FERS retirees. The fly in the ointment for FERS employees is their diet-COLA system. Under it, FERS retirees get the same COLA as CSRS retirees UNTIL it exceeds 2%. So for example if a CSRS Social Security COLA is 6%, FERS retirees would get 5%.

Imagine the impact on a FERS annuity of a period of extended inflation in which the FERS folks would get less than CSRS retirees during periods of inflation.

What if, as some experts project, we are entering a period of high inflation? One that lasts for years. It’s happened before. Some say it may already be happening again. Benefits expert Tammy Flanagan ( passed on a chart showing the history cost of living adjustment since 1975. If you are under the FERS diet-COLA plan, it can be scary. The chart was prepared by the Congressional Research Service. It reflects the actual COLA that Social Security and CSRS retirees got.

Prior to 1975, Social Security benefit increases were set by legislation.

Social Security Cost-Of-Living Adjustments
1975 8.0
1976 6.4
1977 5.9
1978 6.5
1979 9.9
1980 14.3
1981 11.2
1982 7.4
1983 3.5
1984 3.5
1985 3.1
1986 1.3
1987 4.2
1988 4.0
1989 4.7
1990 5.4
1991 3.7
1992 3.0
1993 2.6
1994 2.8
1995 2.6
1996 2.9
1997 2.1
1998 1.3
1999  a 2.5
2000 3.5
2001 2.6
2002 1.4
2003 2.1
2004 2.7
2005 4.1
2006 3.3
2007 2.3
2008 5.8
2009 0.0
2010 0.0
2011 3.6
2012 1.7
2013 1.5
2014 1.7
2015 0.0
2016 0.3
2017 2.0
2018 2.8
2019 1.6
2020 1.3
2021 5.9
a The COLA for December 1999 was originally determined as 2.4 percent based on CPIs published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Pursuant to Public Law 106-554, however, this COLA is effectively now 2.5 percent. (Numbers courtesy of the Social Security Adminstration) 

Nearly Useless Factoid

The reason a person can’t tickle themseleves is that the cerebellum, which is involved in monitoring movements, can predict sensations when your own movement causes them and thus cancels the response of other brain areas to the tickle.

Source: Scientific American

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