Democratic presidential candidates challenged the idea that the nation’s economy is in good shape under President Trump, arguing at Thursday’s debate in Los Angeles that most Americans are not benefiting from robust corporate profits and stock market gains.
“The middle class is getting killed,” former Vice President Joe Biden said. “The middle class is getting crushed.”
Biden and several of the six others on stage at Loyola Marymount University called for higher taxes on corporations and the rich to spread the nation’s wealth more fairly.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren said government was working only for the wealthy and well-connected. “That is corruption, pure and simple, and we need to call it out for what it is,” she said.
A Pew Research Center poll in March found 63% of adults think the U.S. economic system favors powerful interests, while only 34% believed it was generally fair to most Americans. But opinions were sharply divided: 81% of Democrats thought the system favored the powerful, but only 40% of Republicans felt that way.
Still, since the peak of the financial crisis a decade ago, the economy has steadily receded as an issue that Americans see as important.
At the Los Angeles debate, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders raised his voice and said the three wealthiest Americans are richer “than the bottom half of Americans.” He also bemoaned the nation’s 500,000 homeless people.
Tom Steyer, who founded a San Francisco hedge fund that made him a billionaire, argued that his experience as an investment mogul made him the best qualified Democrat to oust Trump.
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“I can go toe to toe with Mr. Trump and take him down on the economy and expose him as a fraud and a failure,” Steyer said.
Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., said people where he lives measure the economy’s health not by gains in the stock market, but by their capacity to pay bills at their kitchen table. The economy’s biggest problem, he said, is simple, and it’s the result of bad policies: “People are not being paid enough.”