Social Security Shenanigans

Here’s a journalistic structure that drives me completely insane:

1. Reporter states a fact.
2. Reporter quotes someone (wrongly) casting doubt on the fact.
3. Reporter kinda shrugs.
4. My head explodes.

Here’s an example from the ProJo’s Neil Downing:

The [Social Security Administration] typically hikes benefit amounts each year, based on the increase in the price of goods and services as measured by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics’ consumer price index.

This time, however, there was no increase in inflation for the year ended Sept. 30, government figures show. Thus, Social Security benefits will not change for 2010.

Nicholas Geanacou, 83, of Cranston, a retired rehabilitation counselor, said he had an idea that benefits would remain flat. “I sort of suspected they would pull a fast one,” he said.

He brushed aside talk about inflation. The real reason that there will be no rise in benefits, he said, is unemployment. With fewer people working, fewer people are paying Social Security taxes, reducing the balance in the Social Security trust funds, he said.

Now, Mr. Geanacou is simply wrong. SSA is not “pulling a fast one” and they’re not holding benefits flat because of unemployment. In fact, I’m not sure the SSA exercises any discretion at all about cost-of-living adjustments, because they are statutory and automatic.

So, why is he quoted? Why is this factually wrong speculation in my newspaper? What purpose does it serve?

Update: Here are some intelligent thoughts on the COLA from Drum and Yglesias.

Social Security Shenanigans

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