Roughly Speaking podcast: Halloween special: Best of horror movie music (episode 168)

Don't give $250 bonus to Social Security recipients

There are Americans who could use a one-time, $250 bonus appropriated by Congress and approved by the president. But it's very difficult to argue that Social Security recipients should be at the top of the list. Seniors didn't get their cost-of-living increase for Social Security this year because the inflation rate was negative. Now Washington is talking about giving them an increase anyway. Why? Hard to tell. But, heck, we're handing out billions to everybody else, anyway, so why not pander to grandma, too?

The bonus would cost $13 billion. President Obama has not said how it would be paid for. In any event it's a bad idea. This is the wealthiest generation of senior citizens in history. In addition to providing Social Security, the government covers their medical costs through Medicare. Last year's cost-of-living increase for Social Security was 5.8 percent. How many workers do you know who got 5.8 percent raises last year? Social Security checks automatically keep up with inflation. Many, many workers are falling behind inflation.The senior-citizen poverty rate in the United States has fallen to about 10 percent from more than 30 percent in the 1950s.

Washington needs to stop handing out money like candy. But if it's going to write checks, how about directing them to the 1 in 10 impoverished senior citizens instead of to every single Social Security beneficiary? Or to children in poverty (34 percent of all kids 18 and under in 2007, according to the Census Bureau)? Or to workers displaced by foreign trade?

In a few years, inflation will be back and so will the COLA increases for Social Security. But I doubt seniors or anybody else will think that's a good thing, either.

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