The Economy: Social Security, joblessness top concerns

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WASHINGTON >> Finally, something that polarized Americans can agree on.

Ask people what economic issues will be important for the next president, and Democrats, Republicans and independents alike all put a high priority on protecting Social Security and reducing unemployment.

Beyond that, though, their lists of top economic concerns for the next president are more fractured, according to a poll conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Democrats attach far more importance than do Republicans to narrowing the gap between rich and poor, reducing poverty and increasing wages to keep up with the cost of living.

Republicans, in turn, place more far importance than do Democrats on shrinking the federal deficit, reducing government regulation and reforming welfare.

So while Americans of all stripes consistently put the economy at or near the top of their lists of most important issues, they may have very different concerns in mind when they do so.

Instability

Philadelphian James Leake, living on disability at age 50, worries about another economic "blowout" and zeroes in on income inequality as a key problem.

"The corporations are taking more and more and more, and I'm like, 'Don't you ... realize the bubble is soon going to burst?' " said Leake, a Democrat.

Edward Vasquez, an engineer from Odessa, Texas, thinks income inequality isn't even real.

"It's a perceived problem," said Vasquez, who calls himself an "anti-establishment" Republican. "Even people that would call themselves poor, they don't understand how rich they are. Americans are spoiled brats. People don't appreciate what they have."

From such opposite perspectives, though, Leake and Vasquez both say protecting Social Security is an extremely important item for the next president's to-do list.

"The way people do things in Washington, they may take it away," said Leake.

"By the time I retire, it's going to be a broken promise," said 44-year-old Vasquez. "There's not enough workers paying into the system."

Overall, the AP-NORC poll found 85 percent of Americans think protecting the future of Social Security is extremely or very important for the next president and 81 percent said the same for reducing unemployment.

There's a valid reason for their concerns about Social Security: The retirement and disability program has enough money to pay full benefits until 2034, after which it will only have enough money to pay about 75 percent of benefits. Over the next 75 years, Social Security is projected to pay out $159 trillion more in benefits than it will collect in taxes, according to agency data.

Looking at the results by party Republicans were most likely to single out reducing the deficit as an item that is extremely important or very important.


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