Hillary Clinton promises greater US income equality in first major economic speech

Hillary Clinton making her first major economic policy address at The New School in New York.
Hillary Clinton making her first major economic policy address at The New School in New York. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (AFP) - US Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton promised Monday to raise incomes of hardworking Americans and rein in excesses on Wall Street in the first major economic policy address of her 2016 campaign.

The 67-year-old former first lady, senator and secretary of state spent nearly an hour outlining a three-pronged strategy to boost long-term growth, as unemployment continues to languish above five percent.

Her speech in New York, her second in the city in a month, comes at a time of surging support for her Democratic challenger on the left, Senator Bernie Sanders, and his populist message against inequality.

"Families deserve to get ahead and stay ahead. The defining economic challenge of our time is clear, we must raise incomes for hard-working Americans," Clinton told a hand-picked audience at The New School.

"I want to see our economy working for the struggling, the striving and the successful." Clinton's choice of location - a liberal arts college with annual fees of around $60,000 - embodied the financial hurdle that middle-class parents face in educating their offspring. But she barely mentioned college debt.

She promised to increase incomes on three tracks: strong growth, fair growth and long-term growth in a sweeping vision of promises that drilled down little into substance on how they could actually be achieved.

Clinton's focus on the middle class and liberalism also presents little break with President Barack Obama, her former rival and former boss.

She criticized Republicans for 35 years of "trickle down" economics - tax cuts for the richest and big corporations writing their own rules, which she said "does practically nothing to help hard-working Americans." Many of her promises have already been made in her three-month campaign.

She repeated calls for tax relief for small businesses, investments that would create jobs, improve infrastructure, bolster renewable energy and make it easier for women to join the workforce.

America has dropped from seventh to 19th out of the 24 most advanced nations in terms of women's labor participation rate, Clinton said.

'Inequality a drag'

It has become too difficult for Americans to be good workers and good parents at the same time, she said, calling for paid leave, quality affordable childcare and equal pay for women.

Comprehensive immigration reform, she said, would increase GDP by $700 billion over the next decade.

"Inequality is a drag on our entire economy so this is the problem we need to tackle," she said.

She ridiculed Republican contender Jeb Bush saying the solution to the economy was Americans working longer hours, saying nurses, teachers and truckers "don't need a lecture. They need a raise," to big cheers.

She singled out another Republican contender, Marco Rubio, for "bad economics" and proposed tax cuts for households making $3 million a year as a "budget-busting giveaway to the super wealthy." She vowed to build on Obama's Affordable Care Act by lowering out-of-pocket healthcare costs and making prescription drugs more affordable.

Acknowledging that many of her proposals "are more than a little battle scarred," she advanced profit sharing as a new idea.

"Hardworking Americans deserve to benefit from the record corporate earnings they helped to produce," she said.

She listed long-term growth as the third key driver of income, criticizing what she called "quarterly capitalism" when companies focus on the next earnings report at the expense of long-term growth.

She promised to "rein in excessive risk on Wall Street" and in reference to well-known banking scandals insisted "there can be no justification or tolerance for... criminal behavior." In another swipe at the Republicans, she called for policies based on evidence, not ideology.

"We have to break out of the poisonous partisan gridlock and focus on the long-term needs of our country." At the end of her speech, a member of the audience who heckled Clinton about banking legislation was swiftly escorted out by security and his cries drowned out by a standing ovation.