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Clinton vs. Trump: On Issues Affecting Retirees

Here's where the presidential candidates stand on Social Security, health care, and the minimum wage.

Politico's chief economic correspondent Ben White has a way with words. As the presidential campaign entered the finalstretch on Labor Day, he wrote: "Just over two months and this entire, dismal, garbage fire campaign will come to a merciful end." No matter which side you’re on, or if you're on the sidelines, White's sentiment probably rings true.

It's hard to remember—or even imagine—a campaign in which personalities and personal attacks have so far overshadowed serious issues and thoughtful debate. Here's a quick look at four issues that will confront the next occupant of the White House.

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Social Security. Before the next presidential term ends, the amount collected from payroll taxes and interest on the nearly $3 trillion in the Social Security trust fund will fall short of the amount needed to cover 100% of benefits due. To cover the shortfall, the government will dip into the trust fund, and if nothing changes, by 2034 it will run dry. At that point, the payroll tax will bring in enough to cover just under 80% or so of promised benefits.

Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump pledge to protect Social Security. Clinton is against changing annual cost-of-living adjustments or increasing the retirement age. In fact, she wants to expand benefits for caregivers who leave the workforce to look after children or sick family members. To pay for it, she would increase payroll taxes on those earning more than $250,000 a year. Trump says he will "do everything within my power not to touch Social Security, to leave it the way it is." His solution to the fiscal problem is "to make this country rich again," with new jobs adding to the payroll tax base.

Taxes. Clinton wants to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans. Trump would cut taxes across the board.

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Clinton's plan would change little or nothing for 95% of taxpayers, those with adjusted gross income under about $180,000. The top 1%, with incomes over about $430,000, would see sizable increases. She would extend from one year to six the length of time higher-income investors have to own assets in order to qualify for the top 20% capital-gains rate. Clinton wants to raise the top estate tax rate to 45% (from 40% now) and reduce the threshold to $3.5 million for individuals and $7 million for married couples (from nearly $5.5 million and $11 million now).

Trump promises "profound" tax relief and simplification. He favors across-the-board rate cuts, with a 33% top income tax bracket, compared with 39.6% now (43.4% on investment income). He vows to do away with the estate and gift tax, but he has been silent on capital gains.

Health care. Clinton supports the Affordable Care Act and wants to expand on Obamacare. Trump wants to repeal it.

Clinton promises to lower out-of-pocket and prescription-drug costs. She backs a tax credit of up to $5,000 per family to cover insurance premiums exceeding 5% of household income. And she supports a "public option," a government health insurance plan to compete with private companies.

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Trump vows to demand that Congress repeal Obamacare on his first day as president. In its place, he would allow individuals to shop for private medical coverage across state lines, to encourage competition. He also supports letting consumers fully deduct health insurance premiums on their tax returns and expanding the use of tax-exempt health savings accounts. Both candidates would allow Americans to import prescription drugs from abroad, a practice that is now illegal.

Minimum wage. Although minimum wage workers tend to be young, many workers age 55 and older are in the same boat, making this issue important to seniors who seek hourly wage jobs to supplement retirement income. The federal minimum wage is now $7.25 an hour.

Trump has said both that he supports a $10-an-hour federal minimum and that the matter should be left up to the states. Clinton supports a $12-an-hour federal minimum wage, with $15-an-hour for workers in some high-cost areas. Any such boost is likely to be phased in over a number of years.

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