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Hillary Clinton targets income inequality in major economic policy speech

Clinton says higher wages for middle class are key to improving US economic health

Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton put the fight for higher wages for working Americans at the heart of her economic agenda on Monday in a speech in which she attempted to counter a perception of her being overly cozy with Wall Street.

Clinton said the U.S. economy can run at full steam only when middle-class wages rise steadily along with executive salaries and company profits.

"I believe we have to build a growth-and-fairness economy. You can't have one without the other," she said in a speech at the New School in Manhattan's Greenwich Village.

With one eye on growing support for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a socialist who has gained in the polls as he seeks the Democratic Party nomination, Clinton described growing economic equality as a threat to American families.

"Corporate profits are at near record highs, and Americans are working as hard as ever, but paychecks have barely budged in real terms,” she said. “Families today are stretched in so many directions, and so are their budgets."

Clinton described Republican economic proposals as relics of the past that would do little to boost wages for the middle class.

She accused former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush of lacking an understanding of the needs of American workers. Referring to comments that he made in New Hampshire last week, in which he said that "people need to work longer hours" to earn more money, Clinton said he "must not have met many American workers." She said he wouldn't hear that sentiment from teachers or nurses or truck drivers. "They don't need a lecture,” she said. “They need a raise."

Clinton, a former first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state, is the favorite to win the Democratic nomination for president in the November 2016 election.

She talked tough against Wall Street on Monday, promising to go beyond the 2010 Dodd-Frank law, which imposed stronger regulations on the financial industry. 

"Too many of our major financial institutions are still too complex and too risky, and the problems are not limited to the big banks that get all the headlines," she said.

She warned that "serious risks are emerging from institutions in the so-called shadow banking system, including hedge funds, high-frequency traders, nonbank finance companies" and other entities that receive little oversight.

The comments seemed aimed at shoring up Clinton's populist credentials, which have come under scrutiny from left-wing groups since she announced her candidacy. She has drawn sharp criticism from both sides of the aisle for railing against Wall Street and income inequality despite commanding steep speaking fees — up to $200,000 per speech — in recent years.

She will unveil more specifics of her economic policy in a series of speeches in coming weeks as Democrats seek more details of her plans to increase the minimum wage, offer universal preschool and invest in infrastructure.

Putting some meat on the bones of her economic policy could divert focus from issues dragging on Clinton's popularity, including a controversy over her use of a private email account while she was President Barack Obama's secretary of state.

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