Where Trump and Clinton Stand on America’s Biggest Money Issues

October 25, 2016, 4:33 PM UTC
Photograph by Robyn Beck — AFP/Getty Images

Here’s a look at where Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump stand on the biggest money issues facing Americans today:


Tepid income growth and a smaller share of the population at work have kept many Americans anxious about jobs and the economy, seven years after the Great Recession ended.

And most jobs that pay decent wages require more education than in the past, leaving many workers feeling left behind.

Trump says he would cut regulations and taxes to spur more hiring, and renegotiate or withdraw from trade agreements to bring jobs back to the U.S.

Clinton says she would spend more on roads, tunnels, and other infrastructure and make state colleges and universities tuition free to most students.

Even though hiring has been healthy for the past six years, incomes have lagged. A typical household didn’t see its income recover to pre-recession levels until just this past July. And the proportion of Americans working or looking for work remains below pre-recession levels, as some of the unemployed have given up searching for jobs.


The Minimum Wage

Modest income gains, strikes by fast-food workers, the rapid growth of low-paying jobs while middle-income work shrinks. These factors have combined to make the minimum wage a top economic issue for the 2016 campaign.

Millions would benefit from higher pay, of course. But an increase in the minimum wage would also boost costs for employers and may slow hiring.

Clinton supports raising the minimum wage at least to $12 an hour, even higher at state and local levels. Trump has said he supports an increase to $10, but thinks states should “really call the shots.” It’s $7.25 now.

Why the momentum for higher minimums? The typical household’s income has fallen 2.4 percent since 1999. Low-paying industries, such as retail, fast food and home health care aides, are among the largest and fastest-growing. And many low-wage workers are older, have families and are probably more willing to demand higher pay.


The Internal Revenue Service touches everyone, not just taxpayers but anyone who receives a government check, drives on roads made possible by tax revenue or sends a child to a school helped by Washington. It’s a touch that can come with a heavy hand, in the eyes of critics who believe the agency’s far-reaching powers are abused and need to be tamed.

Trump’s most explicit views about the agency have been on the personal level — he says he’s been under a continuing multi-year IRS audit and that’s why he won’t release his tax returns, as other presidential candidates have done. He’s also boasted that his use of business losses to zero out his tax liability shows he’s smart. Trump’s tax plan reduces the number of tax brackets but does not envisage dismantling the IRS, as its fiercest critics want.

Clinton has said little about the powers of the IRS except to suggest Trump would use them to go after his opponents. She’s sure to fight attempts by congressional Republicans to cut the agency’s budget.


Presidents like to try reshaping the tax code to make substantive changes in fiscal policy and to show voters their priorities.

Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have made clear that that’s just what they want to do. There’s an enormous difference between their approaches and goals.

Trump, the Republican, is intent on cutting taxes. He’d collapse the current seven income tax brackets, which peak at 39.6 percent, into just three tiers with a top rate of 33 percent, slice the corporate income tax and eliminate the estate tax. Analysts say the wealthy would benefit disproportionately.

Clinton, the Democrat, is proposing tax increases on the rich, including a minimum 30 percent tax on incomes over $1 million and higher taxes on big inheritances. Most taxpayers would see little or no impact on their tax bill, but the government might look different. She’d use the added revenue to expand domestic programs.

Health Care

About 9 in 10 Americans now have health insurance, more than at any time in history. But progress is incomplete, and the future far from certain. Rising costs could bedevil the next occupant of the White House.

Millions of people previously shut out have been covered by President Barack Obama’s health care law. No one can be denied coverage anymore because of a pre-existing condition. But “Obamacare” remains divisive, and premiums for next year are rising sharply in many communities. As well, some major insurers are leaving the program.

Whether Americans would be better off trading for a GOP plan is another question. Recent studies found Trump’s proposal would make 18 million to 20 million people uninsured. GOP congressional leaders have a more comprehensive approach, but key details are still missing.

Overall health care spending is trending higher again, and prices for prescription drugs — new and old — are a major worry.

Medicare’s insolvency date has moved up by two years — to 2028.

Clinton would stay the course, adjusting as needed. Republicans are united on repealing Obama’s law, but it’s unclear how they would replace it.

Clinton says Muslim-Americans help the struggle against homegrown extremism because they can prevent young people from joining jihadis and notify authorities when they suspect radicalization. She’d prohibit people on terrorist watch lists from being able to purchase weapons.


The future of millions of people living in the U.S. illegally could well be shaped by the presidential election. The stakes are high, too, for those who employ them, help them fit into neighborhoods, or want them gone.

Trump at first pledged to deport the estimated 11 million immigrants in the country illegally. Not only that, he’d build a wall all along the Mexican border. But his position has evolved. He’s sticking to his vow to build the wall and make Mexico pay. But he’s no longer proposing to deport people who have not committed crimes beyond their immigration offenses. Still, he’s not proposing a way for people living in the country illegally to gain legal status.

Clinton, in contrast, would overhaul immigration laws to include a path to citizenship, not just legal status.

Illegal immigration has been at nearly 40-year lows for several years. It even appears that Mexican migration trends have reversed, with more Mexicans leaving the U.S. than arriving. Billions of dollars have been spent in recent years to build fencing, improve border technology and expand the Border Patrol.

Nonetheless the Mexican border remains a focal point for those who argue that the country is not secure.

Wall Street Regulation

The debate over rules governing banks and the markets comes down to this: how to prevent another economic catastrophe like the Great Recession ignited by the financial crisis in 2008. The worst upheaval since the 1930s Depression wiped out $11 trillion in U.S. household wealth and about 8 million jobs. More than 5 million families lost their homes to foreclosure.

The economic recovery over eight years has been halting and slow.

The goal behind the most radical overhaul of financial rules since the 1930s was to rein in high-risk practices on Wall Street and prevent another multibillion-dollar taxpayer bailout of banks. In the package of rules Congress enacted in 2010, regulators gained new tools to shut banks without resorting to bailouts. Risky lending was restricted and a new federal agency was charged with protecting consumers from deceptive marketing of financial products.

Republicans and many in the business community say the restrictions have raised costs for banks, especially smaller ones. They want the overhaul law repealed. Trump calls it a “disaster,” saying he would dismantle most of it.

Clinton says the financial rules should be preserved and strengthened.

Income Inequality

Income inequality has surged near levels last seen before the Great Depression. The average income for the top 1 percent of households climbed 7.7 percent last year to $1.36 million, according to tax data. That privileged sliver of the population saw pay climb at almost twice the rate of income growth for the other 99 percent, whose pay averaged a humble $48,768.

Dogged on the issue during the primaries by Bernie Sanders, Clinton has highlighted inequality in multiple speeches. She hopes to redirect more money to the middle class and impoverished. Clinton would raise taxes on the wealthy, increase the federal minimum wage, boost infrastructure spending, provide universal pre-kindergarten and offer the prospect of tuition-free college.

Trump offers a blunter message about a system “rigged” against average Americans. To bring back jobs, Trump has promised new trade deals with better terms, greater infrastructure spending than Clinton foresees and tax cuts that he says would propel stronger growth (though independent analysts say his budget plans would raise deficits).

Child Care/Pay Equity

In much of the U.S., families spend more on child care for two kids than on housing. And if you’re a woman, it’s likely you earn less than your male colleagues. That’s according to the latest research, which suggests that while the U.S. economy has improved, women and their families are still struggling to make the numbers work.

Women comprise about 57 percent of the labor force and many of them have young children. If they aren’t getting paid enough to make ends meet, more families will seek out government aid programs or low-quality, unlicensed day care for their children.

Clinton wants a 12-week government-paid family and medical leave program, guaranteeing workers two-thirds of their wages up to a certain amount. Trump proposes six weeks of leave for new mothers, with the government paying wages equivalent to unemployment benefits.

Both candidates propose tax relief for child care costs. Trump’s plan provides for a new income tax deduction for child care expenses, other tax benefits and a new rebate or tax credit for low-income families. Clinton says no family should spend more than 10 percent of its income on child care. She would double the child tax credit for families with children 4 and younger, to $2,000 per child.

Social Security

Big changes are coming to Social Security, sooner or later.

If left to later, those changes promise to be wrenching.

The trustees who oversee the program say it has enough money to pay full benefits until 2034. But at that point, Social Security will collect only enough taxes to pay 79 percent of benefits. Unless Congress acts, millions of people on fixed incomes would get an automatic 21 percent cut in benefits.

Social Security’s financial problems might seem far off. But the longer Congress waits to act, the harder it will be to save Social Security without dramatic tax increases, big benefit cuts or some combination.

Clinton has proposed expanding Social Security benefits for widows and family caregivers. She says she would preserve Social Security by requiring “the wealthiest” to pay Social Security taxes on more of their income. Trump has promised not to cut Social Security. He’s suggested he’d revisit the program after his tax-cut plan boosts economic growth.

Student Debt

More Americans are getting buried by student debt — causing delays in home ownership, limiting how much people can save and leaving taxpayers at risk as many loans go unpaid.

Student debt now totals around $1.26 trillion. This amounts to a stunning 350 percent increase since 2005, according to the New York Federal Reserve.

More than 60 percent of the class of 2014 graduated with debt that averaged nearly $27,000, according to the College Board. Not all that taxpayer-backed debt is getting repaid. Out of the 43 million Americans with student debt, roughly 16 percent are in long-term default — a potential hit in excess of $100 billion that taxpayers would absorb.

Clinton proposes no tuition for students from families making less than $85,000 who go to an in-state, public college. That threshold would rise to $125,000 by 2021. Trump promises to cap payments at 12.5 percent of a borrower’s income, with loan forgiveness if they make payments for 15 years.

Climate Change

It’s as if Trump and Clinton live on two entirely different Earths: one warming, one not. Clinton says climate change threatens us all, while Trump repeatedly tweets that global warming is a hoax.

Measurements and scientists say Clinton’s Earth is much closer to the warming reality. And it is worsening.

From May 2015 to August 2016, 16 months in a row set records globally for heat, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The world is on pace to break the record for hottest year, a record already broken in 2010, 2014 and 2015. It is about 1.8 degrees warmer than a century ago.

But it’s more than temperatures. Scientists have connected man-made climate change to deadly heat waves, droughts and flood-inducing downpours. Studies say climate change is raising sea levels, melting ice and killing coral. It’s making people sicker with asthma and allergies and may eventually shrink our bank accounts.

Trump calls attempts to remedy global warming “just a very, very expensive form of tax.”

Clinton proposes to spend $60 billion to switch from dirty fossil fuels to cleaner energy. She promises to deliver on President Barack Obama’s pledge that by 2025, the U.S. will be emitting 30 percent less heat-trapping gases than in 2005.

U.S. Debt

The federal government is borrowing about one out of seven dollars it spends and steadily piling up debt — to the tune of about $14 trillion held by investors. Over the long term, that threatens the economy and people’s pocketbooks.

Most economists say rising debt risks crowding out investment and forcing interest rates up, among other problems. At the same time, rapidly growing spending on federal health care programs like Medicare and the drain on Social Security balances caused by the rising tide of baby boomers could squeeze out other spending, on roads, education, the armed forces and more.

It takes spending cuts, tax increases or both to dent the deficit. Lawmakers instead prefer higher spending and tax cuts.

Neither Clinton nor Trump has focused on the debt.

Trump has promised massive tax cuts that would drive up the debt and he’s shown no interest in curbing expensive benefit programs like Medicare.

Clinton, by contrast, is proposing tax increases on the wealthy. But she wouldn’t use the money to bring down the debt. Instead, she’d turn around and spend it on college tuition subsidies, infrastructure and health care.


Energy independence has been a goal of every president since Richard Nixon. Clinton and Trump have very different ways to get there. How energy is produced and where it comes from affect jobs, the economy and the environment.

Domestic production of all types of energy except coal has boomed in recent years, spurred by improved drilling techniques such as fracking and discoveries of vast oil supplies in North Dakota and natural gas in states such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York and West Virginia.

Clinton vows to continue the boom while ensuring the U.S. generates enough renewable energy to power every home in America within 10 years.

Trump vows to “unleash American energy,” allowing unfettered production of oil, coal, natural gas and other sources to push the U.S. toward energy independence and create jobs.

Both Clinton and Trump support natural gas, a cleaner alternative to coal. Trump calls for rescinding the Clean Power Plan, a key element of President Barack Obama’s strategy to fight climate change. Clinton is committed to Obama’s climate-change goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by up to 30 percent by 2025.


The nation’s infrastructure is in need of repair and improvement. On that, politicians generally agree. Harder to answer: How to pay for it and which projects should take priority?

A reliable infrastructure system is important for the nation’s economy, safety and quality of life.

Public health can be put at risk by poor infrastructure, such as the lead-tainted pipes that contaminated the water supply of Flint, Michigan.

Poorly maintained highways and congested traffic also can raise the cost of shipping goods and the price consumers pay.

A recent report by the American Society of Civil Engineers projects the U.S. will face a $1.4 trillion funding gap for its infrastructure by 2025.

Clinton wants to spend $250 billion over the next five years on public infrastructure and direct an additional $25 billion to a new infrastructure bank to help finance local projects. Trump has said he wants to spend at least double that amount on infrastructure, financed with bonds. Whoever becomes president, it’s a staggering amount of money for the federal treasury to put out — if Congress goes along.

Money in Politics

Voters are disgusted with the way political races are paid for — disproportionately by big-money donors, including those who stand to gain or lose from government decisions. The rules even allow donors to hide their identities by giving to politically active nonprofit groups that don’t file detailed public paperwork about their finances.

The system leaves everyday Americans fearing that their voices are being drowned out by these moneyed interests.

So far, donors have pumped more than $1.7 billion into the presidential race, according to an Associated Press tally.

Both presidential candidates talk a good game when it comes to money in politics, but both fail to back their words with action.

Clinton and Trump denounce big money in politics, but they are both largely funded with big money. Trump also has no proposals addressing campaign finance, while Clinton’s are vague and difficult to execute.

Clinton has had direct negotiating experience with Putin and his aides and that has left her wary of cooperating with Moscow. She promises to stand up to Putin and deter Russian aggression in Europe.

Global Trade

In this angry election year, many American voters are skeptical about free trade — or hostile to it.

The backlash threatens a pillar of U.S. policy: The United States has long sought global trade.

Economists say imports cut prices for consumers and make the U.S. more efficient.

But unease has simmered, especially as American workers faced competition from low-wage Chinese labor. Last year, the U.S. ran a $334 billion trade deficit with China — $500 billion with the entire world.

The Democratic and Republican presidential candidates are both playing to public suspicions about trade deals. Hillary Clinton broke with President Barrack Obama by opposing an Asia-Pacific trade agreement that she had supported as secretary of state.

Donald Trump vows to tear up existing trade deals and to slap huge tariffs on Chinese imports.

But trade deals have far less impact on jobs than forces such as automation and wage differences between countries. Trump’s plans to impose tariffs could start a trade war and raise prices.


Tensions have been rising over China’s assertive behavior in the seas of Asia. The U.S. also accuses China of unfair trading practices and cyber theft of business secrets.

Trump says that the sheer volume of trade gives the U.S. leverage over China. He accuses China of undervaluing its currency to make its exports artificially cheap and proposes tariffs as high as 45 percent on Chinese imports if Beijing doesn’t change its behavior. Such action could risk a trade war that would make many products in the U.S. more expensive.

Clinton says the U.S. needs to press the rising Asian power to play by international rules, whether on trade or territorial disputes.

While many of China’s neighbors are unnerved by its military build-up, the wider world needs the U.S. and China to get along, to tackle global problems. The U.S. and China are also economically inter-dependent, and punishment by one party could end up hurting the other.

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