Social Security, established over eight decades ago, continues to stand as a bedrock for the financial security of millions of Americans. As we approach the threshold of 2024, the horizon brings with it a slew of adjustments tailored to reflect the nation’s economic pulse. These adaptations are not arbitrary; they are meticulously calibrated to align with wider economic trends.
At the heart of these changes lies the intricate dance between inflation and Social Security benefits. This relationship ensures that beneficiaries, from retirees to individuals with disabilities, maintain a stable purchasing power, safeguarding their financial well-being in our dynamic and price-sensitive economic environment.
Key Changes for 2024
Benefits on the Rise
In January 2024, both Social Security benefits and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments are set to increase by 3.2%. This growth will positively influence over 71 million Americans. Translating this percentage, retirement benefits will observe an upward shift at the start of the year, amounting to an additional $50 or more monthly for numerous recipients. Such increments play a pivotal role in safeguarding beneficiaries’ financial stability amidst fluctuating economic conditions.
The Guiding Hand: CPI-W
Driving these annual financial adjustments is the Department of Labor’s Consumer Price Index, known as the CPI-W. This index doesn’t merely provide data; it offers a real-time snapshot of economic health through price changes across the country. It gauges inflation and adjusts in tandem with cost-of-living fluctuations to maintain a steady real return. Therefore, as living costs rise due to inflationary pressures, the CPI-W ensures that such increases are proportionately reflected in Social Security adjustments, creating a responsive system for beneficiaries.
The Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) is much more than a bureaucratic term – it’s the backbone of the Social Security system. COLA was specifically designed to counterbalance inflation’s unpredictability and ensure that the intrinsic value of Social Security benefits remains consistent. Come December 2023, a plethora of COLA notices will be dispatched, offering beneficiaries a clear view of their adjusted benefits. In a constantly evolving economy, COLA stands as a much-needed shield, preserving the purchasing capacity of every beneficiary’s dollar as inflation inevitably takes its toll on prices and benefits.
Adjusting Financial Benchmarks
Beyond the benefits, 2024 introduces refinements to the financial structures governing Social Security. Two pivotal areas to watch include the adjustment in the maximum earnings cap that will be subject to the Social Security payroll tax and the recalibration of the retirement earnings test exempt amount. Both these modifications are not notable technical shifts. They also resonate with the broader economic trends, necessitating beneficiaries to realign their retirement strategies accordingly.
Interpreting the Changes
A Historical Context
To provide perspective, the 3.2% increase for 2024 may appear modest, especially when placed against the backdrop of 2023’s staggering 8.7% adjustment. However, such decisions are crafted after thorough and calculated deliberations, mirroring current inflation metrics. These calibrated adjustments ensure that Social Security remains resilient and adaptive, offering beneficiaries an unshakable income less susceptible to the forces of inflation. Without these adjustments, countless Americans would no longer be able to survive off of their Social Security benefits.
Behind COLA: The BLS Metric
As mentioned earlier, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ CPI-W isn’t just a tool; it’s the key driver of COLA. By meticulously tracking urban consumer price variations across a wide spectrum – ranging from daily essentials to luxury goods – it captures the broader economic conditions as measured by price changes of consumer goods and services. In essence, the CPI-W acts as a guardian, ensuring that inflation doesn’t erode the real value of your Social Security benefits.
The Tangible Impact
Putting numbers into perspective, August 2023’s average Social Security benefit was pegged at $1,705.79. With the forthcoming 3.2% adjustment, recipients can anticipate an average of $1,760.37. However, it’s crucial for beneficiaries to approach this increase with a keen eye and a note of caution. Inflation adjustments are not a fiscal windfall but an adaptive mechanism, ensuring that benefits remain in harmony with the inflationary landscape. Unfortunately, more money in your benefit does not mean more money, as it simply offsets price increases throughout the economy.
Stepping into 2024
2024 is poised to bring about significant changes to Social Security, all calibrated to help beneficiaries from inflation’s adverse impacts. As we navigate these alterations, beneficiaries are encouraged to establish a personal “my Social Security” account. This platform offers online access to COLA notices, providing a green alternative to traditional mailed notices. The future beckons, and with it, an evolving Social Security landscape.
Have a great weekend!
Source: Ballentine Capital Advisors
Golf Tip of the Week
Throwing Grass To Check The Wind Is Dumb. Here’s Why
It has become a televised golf ritual: A player and his or her caddie toss some blades of grass and look thoughtfully at the trees around them—or the flag on an adjacent hole, like at Augusta National— to try to divine how the wind will affect the next shot.
It might be good theater—or a way to calm the nerves—but it turns out that the information gleaned from it isn’t particularly accurate. Just ask somebody who relies even more heavily on wind direction to win than golfers do. Nick von der Wense is a 15-time national sailing champion with experience racing everywhere from the open ocean to the lakes of Minnesota.
“Making your strategic decisions based on what you feel on the side of your face is a recipe for losing,” says von der Wense, who has raced everything from single-sailor Lasers to 80-foot-mast yachts.
“What you feel down by you can be, and usually is, very different than what’s happening 20 feet or 100 feet above the ground.”
Surface wind is impacted by everything from the color and temperature of the ground, barriers like trees blocking or channeling gusts and the prevailing wind direction that day.
“Your best bet is to look at the flag on the clubhouse; think of that as the prevailing wind and make your big-picture strategic decisions accordingly,” von der Wense says. “The more difference there is between the temperature of the ground and the air temperature, the windier it’s going to be. When it gets calm and awesome on the golf course at the end of a late spring afternoon, that’s when the ground and air temperatures have equalized.”
Under specific conditions—think of a hole at Whistling Straits with nothing between you and Lake Michigan—tossing grass might work, von der Wense says. But our advice? You’re better served by choosing your shot, committing to it, and not clouding your process with what probably is a bad read.
Tip adapted from golfdigest.comi
Recipe of the Week
- 1 ounce black candy melts
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 2 heaping cups ice cubes
- 1/2 cup vanilla vodka
- Two 1.4 ounce packets white hot-chocolate mix
- Microwave the candy melts in a small microwave-safe bowl at 50-percent power in 10 second increments, stirring in between, until melted, 40 to 60 seconds. Stir until smooth.
- Lay a stemless wine glass on its side. Use a small spoon to paint 2 large ghost eyes and 1 large mouth with the candy melt inside the glass. Repeat with the remaining glass(es). Chill the glasses, painted-sides down, in the freezer until the candy melts harden and the glasses begin to frost, about 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, whisk 1 cup of the cream in a large bowl, either by hand or with a handheld mixer, until foamy. Whisk, gradually adding the sugar, until soft peaks form. Whisk in the vanilla extract. Transfer to a piping bag fitted with a large plain tip.
Combine the ice, vodka, hot chocolate mix and remaining 1 cup cream in a blender and blend on high speed until very smooth and thick. Pour into the prepared glasses. Pipe the whipped cream on top of each drink, swirling to make a peak at the top of the ghost’s head. Serve immediately.
Recipe adapted from Foodnetwork.comii
Health Tip of the Week
Natural Cough Remedies
A teaspoon or two of honey may cut mucus production. Honey also kills germs. But remember, it can cause botulism, a rare form of food poisoning, in babies. Never give it to any child younger than 1.
Hot drinks won’t ease a stuffy head, but they can soothe a cough much better than room temperature drinks. Sip on hot tea or water if you’re seeking relief.
Research shows certain purified compounds inside ginger root can relax the muscles that tighten your airways. You can eat ginger raw, or you can mix ground ginger root with honey and stir into hot tea.
Drinking lots of water not only soothes the scratch of a cough and keeps you hydrated, but it also thins the mucus in your throat. You’re less likely to need to clear things out with a cough.
Breathing in steam may help with coughing because it calms and moisturizes your airways. You can also add essential oils like peppermint to the water for extra comfort.
One of the most common reasons for cough is upper airway inflammation. Saline irrigation, or washing out your nasal passages with a saltwater rinse, can keep inflammation down by flushing out irritants and clearing away mucus. You can use a special bulb or a container called a neti pot.
You can take elderberry extract as a supplement in capsules or a syrup. It may not ease your cough right away, but studies show it can make it go away sooner.
Menthol, a compound naturally found in peppermint, opens your airways to help you breathe more easily. That means it can also keep coughs at bay. You can find menthol in rubs you spread across your chest, cough drops, and even peppermint tea.
A saltwater gargle is usually a sore throat remedy, but it’s worth trying for coughs, too. The extra moisture can thin mucus and help wash out things that irritate your throat, much like a saline rinse does for the nose. Mix 1/4 to 1/2 of salt into 8 ounces of warm water, tip your head back, gargle, and then spit the mixture out.
Though keeping the air moist can help ward off a dry cough, take extra care with humidifiers. Dust mites are the No. 1 allergen and grow best when conditions are too moist. Mold can also grow inside humidifiers if you don’t keep them clean. Both can make coughs worse instead of better.
Experts have found that mixing herbs like ivy leaf, marshmallow root, thyme, and aniseed into a syrup can cut the number of days you’ll deal with your cough.
Sucking on a cough drop — or even just a hard candy — may wet your throat enough that it puts a short-term damper on cough. Your best bet is cough drops with airway-opening menthol.
Tip adapted from WebMD.comiii
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