Social Security increase trails inflation

Social Security retirement checks, frozen last year due to low inflation, will rise a very modest 0.3 percent in 2017, the government said Tuesday. (Retired workers will collect up to $2,687 a month, averaging about half that.) 

That's less than the expected Consumer Price Index rise. As of last month, prices were up 1.5 percent from last year's levels, with gasoline and fuel up twice as much, and medical co-insurance costs soaring; food prices trailed.

"It is assumed Americans don't use gasoline," retired accountant and factory manager Joe Rees told me. "That's not much help to those who are currently being squeezed." His Social Security and military pensions are up $87 a month, while his Medicare Part D premium went up $84 a month, and his school district property taxes rose 4.3 percent.

Rees says he doesn't want to complain overly much. He's enjoying a relatively comfortable retirement. Laid off from his factory-management job at 45, he used his LaSalle accounting degree to get into a Penn corporate-planning course, leading to a part-time controllership at GE Water in Trevose, before final retirement, Social Security and a government-service pension at 62.

Now he's measuring old-guy costs against retirement dollars that don't stretch as much as costs.  "At some point, we all have to face facts and seek ways to reduce costs," he told me. In his case that may mean smaller contributions to Sister Mary Scullion's Project HOME and Philabundance, the food bank.

He'll continue helping neighbors do their taxes, "pro bono." He's urging  worried pensioners to "call Sen. Robert Casey (D-Pa.) and urge him to introduce a Senate bill to give a lump sum to all Social Security recipients" and some military retirees.  

Knowing how some people blow their lump-sum payments, I'm not sure that's a solution. But I'm glad guys like Joe Rees are paying attention.