Why your So­cial Se­cu­rity check is not stretch­ing as far as it once did.

The Washington Post Sunday - - BUSINESS - BY JONNELLE MARTE jonnelle.marte@wash­post.com

It’s of­fi­cial: Tens of mil­lions of re­tirees re­ceiv­ing So­cial Se­cu­rity ben­e­fits will not get a raise next year.

The sit­u­a­tion comes up any time in­fla­tion is low, a shift that was driven largely by low gas prices this year.

This marks the third time in the past six years — the other two in­stances oc­curred in 2010 and 2011 — that ben­e­fits will stay flat for re­tirees. But retirement ex­perts say the mea­sure of in­fla­tion that is used to cal­cu­late changes to So­cial Se­cu­rity ben­e­fits, the Con­sumer Price In­dex for Ur­ban Wage Earn­ers and Cler­i­cal Work­ers, does not ac­cu­rately match the ex­penses typ­i­cally faced in retirement.

Some costs that are counted heav­ily in the in­dex, such as gas and trans­porta­tion, do not mat­ter as much for re­tirees who are no longer com­mut­ing. Other ex­penses that are a ma­jor part of a re­tiree’s bud­get, such as Medi­care pre­mi­ums, are not counted in the in­dex.

Many re­tirees have found that their bills — in­clud­ing health-care costs, hous­ing and util­i­ties — have been climb­ing faster than So­cial Se­cu­rity ben­e­fits.

For ex­am­ple, So­cial Se­cu­rity ben­e­fits grew by 43 per­cent be­tween 2000 and 2015, ac­cord­ing to cal­cu­la­tions from the Se­nior Cit­i­zens League. Over that same pe­riod, Medi­care Part B pre­mi­ums grew by 131 per­cent. Monthly hous­ing costs rose 44 per­cent for peo­ple who own their home and even faster, 56 per­cent, for renters. The price of a gal­lon of heat­ing oil used in boil­ers rose 159 per­cent, and the price of elec­tric­ity in­creased by 63 per­cent. The cost of ba­sic land­line phone ser­vice has grown by 52 per­cent.

Of course, some of the ex­penses that have been ris­ing for work­ers and are counted in the in­fla­tion in­dex — such as col­lege tu­ition and rent — may not cause as large a bur­den for re­tirees.

Still, peo­ple re­ceiv­ing So­cial Se­cu­rity ben­e­fits have seen their buy­ing power fall by 22 per­cent since 2000, ac­cord­ing to an es­ti­mate from the Se­nior Cit­i­zens League. Av­er­age So­cial Se­cu­rity ben­e­fits have grown to $1,166.30 a month in 2015, from $816 in 2000, ac­cord­ing to the re­port. But re­tirees would need a monthly ben­e­fit of $1,418 to have the same pur­chas­ing power they had when they first re­tired, the sur­vey found.

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