Saturday, November 17, 2012


At a gathering the other night, some friends and I were talking about what benefits should be given up for the greater good of the corporate and public interests in a public workers' self-sacrifice of what was originally owed to all of us.  What followed was an argument which ranged from one extreme to the next.  Voices varied from "sell the Governor's mansion" to the belief that "the loss of a compounded COLA" might be acceptable.  Acceptable?  Had it been acceptable for those who did receive Social Security - as teachers do NOT - imagine what life would have been like ( or hadn't been like) for Ida - see below.  My good retired friend south of I-80 who receives $24,000 per year to survive will eventually be left in the wake of increasing costs to survive in very short order without her compounded COLA.  As the COLA will be first and foremost this January, I recall an earlier vocabulary for all of us.    

COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment)

noun.  Annual increases to retirement benefits  “to offset the corrosive effects of inflation on fixed incomes ” are known as Cost of Living Allowances or Adjustments (   In Illinois, TRS and other public pension plans were accompanied by a compounded COLA prior to the development of a new Tier Two public employee (HB1946) in January of 2010.  Tier Two recipients will be provided only “simple” COLA’s.  Any allowances or changes to pension benefits in Social Security or public pensions to ward off inflationary destruction were not always the norm, however.  See history below:

The first Social Security benefit in the United States was issued to Ida May Fuller of Ludlow, Vermont, in January of 1940 (pictured at right).  At age 65, Ida May began collecting $22.54 monthly, and she lived until 1975, surpassing her 100th birthday.  For the first decade of payments, Ms. Fuller’s benefits remained unchanged; that is, she received only $22.54 per month.  Unfortunately, Ms. Fuller’s steady payment was accompanied by an average annual inflationary increase of 5.52% during the next decade (     In fact, by 1950, retired workers applying for and receiving Social Security were receiving less than if they’d have been supplied the least effective social safety net of Old-Age Assistance – also a part of the original Social Security Act of 1935.   This shortcoming prompted the enactment of major amendments that increased benefits for the first time in 1950 and again in 1952 for retired beneficiaries. After the passage of the Amendments to the Act, Ms. Fuller’s payments climbed to $41.30 per month.  

Special acts of Congress provided later increases on an occasional basis until July of 1972, when President Richard Nixon signed PL 92-336, which authorized a 20% cost-of-living effective in September of that year.  The statute also established procedures for the inception of an annual automatic cost-of-living adjustment.  Cost-of-living increases are based upon increases in the cost of living as measured by the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W), determined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).  According to IEA Fact Sheet (HB5418 McCarthy (D) Governors Pension Proposal for Educators), “…Social Security has a compounding COLA.”   Members of Tier One in Illinois are currently promised a compounded COLA.  

Next:  Simple vs. Compounded Cost-of-Living Adjustments  


  1. …It appears that legislators will steamroll ahead with what is most self-serving, regardless of the effects that a COLA reduction will have on Illinois teachers and their families. What seems blatantly obvious is that a COLA reduction for teachers will not be made compulsory on the legislators who pass such a bill, nor will it affect the legislators’ other guaranteed and unimpeded benefits, pensions and their social security. In this regard, to reduce the teachers’ COLA, whether it is deemed legal or not, will unquestionably diminish the teachers’ “promised” benefits.

    It will affect the retired teachers’ financial security in an uncertain future, and it will most likely be challenged in the courts if it occurs. Creating and passing any bill that diminishes “promised” benefits, such as the compounded TRS COLA that is already in place for current and retired teachers, is a breach of trust. It’s discriminating. In fact, it's emblematic of a continued unjust forfeiture and a theft to one particular group of people in Illinois, and it’s wrong.


  2. Since we are from the Land of Lincoln:
    "The probability that we may fail ought not to deter us from the support of a cause we believe to be just." - Abraham Lincoln

    On the other hand, this behavior led to his early death.