This year’s soaring inflation rate has all but ensured that in 2023, Social Security recipients will see their highest cost-of-living adjustment in 41 years. Based on the latest consumer price data, Social Security’s estimated COLA for 2023 is 8.7%, according to The Senior Citizens League, a nonpartisan advocacy group for seniors. If that happens, it will be the largest annual increase since the 11.2% COLA in 1981.
While the 2023 COLA won’t end up as high as 8.7%, you can expect the smallest possible adjustment to still be very close — probably around 8.5% to 8.6%.
The COLA is based on the Consumer Price Index for city wage and administrative workers. It is calculated using the average inflation rate in the third quarter of the year. When these numbers come out, the figures for July, August and September are added together and divided by three to get the average. The 2022 number will then be compared to the 2021 third quarter average to determine the percentage change for 2023.
Technically, the smallest possible COLA is 0%, which has only happened three times since 1975, according to the SSA. To get a 0% COLA in 2023, the CPI-W would have to reverse course and fall nearly 25% from August to September, the Motley Fool reported. The probability of this happening is somewhere between zero and whatever fraction is closest to zero.
It is also possible that the CPI-W could reach its largest monthly decline of 2.3%, which would push the 2023 COLA to 7.9%. But again, given recent inflation trends, the chances of that happening are next to zero.
A more realistic scenario is that the CPI-W will decline slightly faster in September than the previous two months. As the Motley Fool noted, the CPI-W fell 0.1% in July from the previous month, and the August CPI-W fell another 0.2% from July. Following this pattern, September’s CPI-W could fall by 0.3% month-on-month. If that happens, the 2023 COLA would be around 8.6%.
If inflation declines twice as fast as the recent trend, Social Security’s COLA will still be 8.5% in 2023. That’s about the lowest you should expect, according to Motley Fool estimates.