Elders, Modern Communication and Me
Crabby Old Lady: The High Cost of Being Old

Dear Mr. President: Chained CPI

[EDITORIAL NOTE: The first in an occasional series of letters from Crabby Old Lady to the president about issues of interest to elders.]

Crabby Old Lady wonders if you have any idea how panicked she gets every time you mention chained CPI. Here's what your spokesman, Jay Charney, said last Friday at the daily press briefing that made her knees buckle: [the emphasis is Crabby's]:

”[The president] has put forward a technical change as part of a big deal - and it’s on the table - that he put forward to the Speaker of the House. The Speaker of the House, by the way, walked away from that deal...

“But as part of that deal, the technical change in the so-called CPI is possible in his own offer as part of a big deal.”

Oh, Mr. President, this is no minor technical change. It takes money out of current Social Security beneficiaries' pockets. Did you get that part? CURRENT beneficiaries' – retired people no longer working who have no way to make up the difference.

Not even Simpson/Bowles, Pete Peterson and Paul Ryan – people whose most fervid dream is to kill Social Security - have gone that far (and Crabby has no doubt they are happy to let you take the flak for it instead of them).

Further, with House Speaker John Boehner so far rejecting your chained CPI offer, you, sir, have become the biggest threat to old people in America.

Mr. President, is it possible you do not understand what chained CPI is or how it will affect elders for the rest of our lives?

Crabby Old Lady suspects you may not because the alternative is for her to believe you think it's a good idea for millions of old people who barely get by now to live on even less money in the future.

Because it would panic Crabby even more than the phrase “chained cpi” does to think the second explanation is true, she has here for you a short video from Representative Keith Eliison showing, in language and graphics a fifth grader can understand, what chained CPI is:

Does that make it more clear for you, Mr. President? Chained CPI means a lot of old people will skip meals and medication that they barely afford now.

You and your man, Jay Carney, talk a lot about “shared sacrifice” but how much more can elders give? Let Crabby cite you some facts:

ITEM: Social Security is a closed system. It is not possible for it to contribute to the deficit. Not one penny. You're a smart guy; you must know that. Right? If so, how could you include Social Security in any kind of budget package? If not, I am ashamed of you.

Oh, and by the way, Social security is not – as you keep calling it – an “entitlement.” Americans pay for it out of their paychecks every week of every year of every decade they are employed. It is not welfare. So please start calling Social Security what it is, an earned benefit.

ITEM: Now. The average Social Security payment is $1230 a month. Do you know that? And don't forget that $100 comes off the top of that benefit for Medicare Part B so it's really only $1130 per month – not even $300 a week for rent/mortgage, utilities, food, medical expenses and everything else.

And that's average, that $1100. A lot of old people have less.

ITEM: For one-quarter of elder beneficiaries (24 percent), Social Security is their sole source of income.

ITEM: For 36 percent of elder beneficiaries, Social Security is more than 90 percent of their income.

ITEM: Even higher percentages of minorites rely on Social Security for all or most of their income. Here is a chart about that from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:


ITEM: Many current Social Security beneficiaries were thrown out of work when the economy collapsed five years ago and have never worked again. That means they did not pay into Social Security during that time which has lowered their benefit. Forever.

ITEM: For many of those layed-off, elder workers, their only way to survive was to take early Social Security as soon as they were eligible at age 62, another decrease in their benefit. Forever.

ITEM: Like workers of all ages, most elder workers who managed to find jobs since the collapse are earning half and even less of their previous salaries. Again, less money into their SSA accounts and therefore, lower benefits. Forever.

ITEM: The financial collapse decimated older workers' and elders' savings – there have been estimates of $2 trillion lost just for elders.

Crabby Old Lady was one of them – 40 percent of her small nest egg gone never to be seen again because Crabby (and millions of other elders) don't trust high-yield investments not to tank again. Safer savings alternatives no longer pay any interest at all.

ITEM: Some of the people who want to cut Social Security tell old people to get a job. Any job. Huh? Pay attention, Mr. President: There's this little problem people like to pretend doesn't exist called age discrimination.

Yes, it's illegal in the workplace but no one enforces the law and anyone older than 50 knows that look on the face a hiring manager who, while being vaguely polite, has no intention of hiring an “old person.”

ITEM: Further, there is no way to know how many old people lost their homes to those criminal banks your administration has not prosecuted. Maybe a 35-year-old will be able to buy a home again some day for their old age, but no old person can.

So, Mr. share-the-burden President, elders are already drained dry. We have lost our jobs, our savings, our homes and our Social Security benefits have already been slashed by the recession.

And now you want us to give even more via chained CPI? Oof – it feels like a sucker punch in the gut to 71-year-old Crabby every time she says the phrase.

Mr. President, old folks have no more to give.

If all this doesn't convince you, maybe the fact that pretty much every person in America disagrees with you will.

Here's a chart of a poll from Pew taken just last month showing that 87 percent (!) of Americans believe Social Security should either be increased or stay the same. Only 10 percent want to reduce it.


Mr. President, nobody ever got rich on Social Security but a whole lot of people who earned this benefit would be poorer with chained CPI. You need to withdraw this terrible idea and fight with all your executive power against any Social Security cut proposals from others. It's the only right thing to do.

Crabby Old Lady

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Joyce Benedict: Who Could It Have Been?


As a person who lives mainly on social security I am dismayed also by the apparent lack of knowledge about it. You are right it is not entitlement. As a retired geriatrician I regularly encountered seniors who had to choose between food, medicine, and housing. Great job.

How I wish your letter reached the desk of the President who sits in his Ivory Tower called the Oval Office. I do think he is a fair man, but he is also a politician and, as such, he looks at the deal he can make and if we suffer, so be it.

It will certainly hurt me as my only income is S.S. and after the cuts of the sequester go in I will probably lose the small benefits I get from being low income. Arrrgh!

You said it well. I am terrified. This is a death sentence for those of us who already receive below average benefits. Groceries are already luxury item at my house.

I read a lot on this subject and I've never seen it spelled out better. Excellent source of information. Thank you. here is a link to Common Cause that is sending grassroots comment to Obama http://www.commoncause.org/site/apps/ka/ct/contactus.asp?c=dkLNK1MQIwG&b=8567433&en=clINI3OLJbJWIdOOLaJTLaNZImJQLaOUJeKXJhP2IvIdE

But your letter should go directly to him.

Ronni, I second Darlene's wish that your letter reach the desk of POTUS. Any chance you will or did send it? As a "subject expert," would you willingly ask to be a guest on TV and radio news programs? Or be an "expert witness" for pols, committees, blabla? Your research, documentation, and arguments are terrific, sound, and vital to be heard.

I tell every investment adviser, "pretend Social Security doesn't exist." 20 years ago they would look at me funny or refuse to make an SS-free calculation for making my retirement. When I do it now they nod and say "probably a good idea." Reality is sinking in slowly. The government spent all the money. They made promises that can't be kept. Most politicians are too gutless to admit how bad the problem is or too stupid to understand. The truth is the people who currently are on Social Security may outlive the existence of the program. Those not currently on SS probably will see the program die. This is a painful truth. My parents refuse to believe it. If you depend on Social Security, you need to reconcile with your children. You will be moving back in with them. Everybody else, get ready for "boomerang" parents. If you plan now, you may be yet able to live with some comfort. Depend on the lying politicians to save you and reality will smack you in the head like a 2x4.

I continue to be slack-jawed over Obama's voluntarily including chained CPI as part of his offer to Republicans when they didn't even ask for it. It's such a stark betrayal of those seniors who voted for him.

Please ignore John G's ignorant rant from the far right above. Social Security is solvent for 20 years and only a few tweaks that would hurt no one can make it solvent for 75 years.

I thnk I need a new party with which to affiliate. It seems to me that the Democratic party is becoming more and more like a televangelist preachers who beg people who can't afford it to send them more and more money for reasons that are seeming more and more specious. Does anyone really care anymore about the growing number of people falling into the black hole of poverty daily? Hint: It has a definite positive correlation with the growth of the senior population too.

Quite a few Social Security recipients do not receive $22,000 per year as stated by Representative Ellison. That would be $1833 per month, a bit above the average. Going back over the last 10-15 years, it seems they cannot keep from tweaking the CPI, all the while providing all sorts of rationalizations for these changes based on perceived shopping decisions made by elders on Social Security.

From your mouth to God's ear, Crabby Old Lady (and, hopefully, to the ear of the President as well)!! I have just linked your post to my Facebook page and hope that every one of my friends will read and share it. Thanks for every effort you make!

All I can say is immigrate. It is election year here in the Land of Oz so we Old Age Pensioners are getting another pay rise in the next few weeks. I am grateful but guilty - the govt has cut the income of single mothers to encourage them into the workforce or should I say a tight labour market? I know it is difficult when children are brought up in a household where no adult works - but women in Australia fought for years to get a fair deal for single women with children yet now a female prime minister presides and a female cabinet minister is responsible for the portfolio, the income of single women with children is cut.

I wonder if the 'figures' take into account those who die before they reach SS age, and about the effect of obesity shortening the lives of many will have on the coffers of SS.
But with most of us outliving the monies we paid in, and only two workers to pay in for each of us drawing, I think the chained CPI may be the most innocuous adjustment Obama can offer. Please remember there are 'protections for the vulnerable' built in to his offer.

I'd like to think that all of the money that I and others have paid into Social Security will come back to us some day. Unfortunately, I doubt it and here's why. First of all, the money we've all paid in isn't really there any more. It has been spent and in its place we have IOU's from the federal government. If you don't believe me, do some research and find out for yourself. Don't just listen to the bloggers and the talking heads on TV. Get educated on the reality of the situation. As long as our government can pay its debts, we are OK. Given the way our government continues its out of control spending which is ballooning our national debt toward $20 TRILLION (NOT INCLUDING SOCIAL SECURITY IOU'S) over the next few years, does anyone in their right mind think that there's going to be money left to pay everything back the Social Security Trust Fund. Listen to the next debate over the Country's debt ceiling, and listen for talk about whether social security checks are going to be held up. If there was money actually sitting in the Social Security Trust Fund to pay benefits, why would the debt ceiling matter? It shouldn't. But it does, because there really is no money there. Bottom line...chained CPI is a threat...but the bigger threat is the government not being able to fulfill its basic promises because there will be no more money left because of its irresponsible actions.

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