Hillary Clinton's best economic idea

Hillary Clinton's $350 billion student loan plan
Hillary Clinton's $350 billion student loan plan

Hillary Clinton wants to give America a raise.

Clinton, who is now the presumptive Democratic nominee, talks often about the need for a "growth and fairness" economy. She says it's not right that middle class wages have been stagnant for 15 years while health care, college and other costs have risen. This isn't just campaign talk. These problems are real, according to the data.

But what exactly is her plan to fix it? Voters say the economy is their No. 1 concern, but they think Republican Donald Trump would do a better job improving it.

Clinton has focused on American paychecks. She wants to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to at least $12 an hour, but that would only impact a small number of workers. To really get wages up, economists say the U.S. must grow more than it has under President Obama.

Clinton's best idea to get the economy going is infrastructure spending, say experts across the political spectrum. Her other top ideas are immigration reform and making it easier for women to work.

To beat Trump, she'll likely need more pro-growth proposals -- and to talk up pocketbook issues a lot more as she campaigns. Who can forget the famous line when her husband won the White House in 1992: it's the economy, stupid.

Related: How to revive the U.S. economy

Fix America's roads

Clinton's plan calls for at least $275 billion of infrastructure spending. It would boost jobs and growth in the short-term and hopefully set American business up for years to come.

"We're like a third-world country when it comes to infrastructure," Ray LaHood, Obama's former Transportation Secretary, told CNN.

There's a reason Wall Street looks at the performance of trains, trucks and other transportation as a leading indicator of economic growth. Getting America's infrastructure in better shape would go a long way to getting the economy humming again.

"Roads, bridges, sewers, water. You name it, we are lagging," says David Kotok, chairman of Cumberland Advisors. "The United States needs somewhere between $3 trillion and $4 trillion of infrastructure spending."

Some quibble with Clinton's plan to create a National Infrastructure Bank, but it's likely Congress would block that because it would limit congressional oversight of the money.

Related: Clinton predicted to beat Trump...due to economics

America needs more highly-skilled workers

Clinton also gets praise for wanting to tackle immigration reform early on. She's said it would be among her top priorities in her first 100 days in office.

"This is a big economic deal. We have a great opportunity of choosing the future of our workforce," says Doug Holtz-Eakin, president of the American Action Forum and a former economic advisor to Republican John McCain.

Immigration is a big contrast Clinton can play up against Trump. The U.S. economy grows because of two factors: more workers and more productivity. As Baby Boomers retire, America will need to replace workers, especially highly skilled workers. Immigration is one way to do that.

Aaron Chatterji, who worked in the Obama Administration, also lauds Clinton for her plans to expand childcare access to help working parents, especially women. Consulting firm McKinsey says getting more American women into the workforce could double growth.

Related: Trump will cause 'protracted recession'

Clinton is too often in the weeds

But overall, Clinton has to get more pro-growth if she wants to win over more voters on the economy, especially independents and Republicans leery of a Trump presidency.

Economists say Clinton is too often in the weeds. Her capital gains tax plan, for example, was heavily criticized. It left many experts confused as to why she would want to make taxes even more complex for questionable impact on the economy.

There's a need for broad tax reform, especially for businesses. In her fight against Bernie Sanders, Clinton has had to tone down any talk of a more pro-business tax reform. She'll likely need to change her rhetoric as she faces Trump.

Related: Should investors fear President Trump or Clinton?

Similarly, many Americans worry about government debt. It might not be a crisis now, but that day is coming. By the end of the next president's term, the U.S. will spend about $1 trillion a year on paying back debt.

Clinton argues her proposals won't add any more to the debt, but the problem is the status quo still leads to an alarming situation.

In an election year when there are legitimate concerns that Trump's economic policies could cause a massive recession, Clinton should be able to win over voters on the economy. So far, that's not happening. She has to revisit her economic agenda.

Personal Finance


CNNMoney Sponsors