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How Biden Winning the Presidency Could Affect Seniors

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Drew Angerer/Staff/Getty Images News/Getty Images North America

Party Possibilities

According to Pew Research, President Donald Trump won older voters (50-64 years old) and seniors (65 and up) by significant margins in 2016. But the incumbent by no means has a lock on these crucial voting blocks moving into his fall contest against Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden. Older voters are not a monolith, but they do tend to coalesce around a core set of key issues that impact their interests, their quality of life, their financial security, their health, and their health care. Trump and Biden are two radically different candidates with radically different ideas and policies, many of which are sure to impact the lives of millions of seniors. Here's how a Biden win could alter the landscape for older Americans.

RelatedBest and Worst Impacts of Trump's First Term on Seniors

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They Might Age in a Country Where Social Security Is Secure

Trump insisted on a cut to the payroll tax as part of any COVID-19 stimulus package and publicly promised to eliminate the payroll tax altogether if reelected. The payroll tax is the primary funding source for Social Security, an already-strained program that provides a basic income for tens of millions of seniors. Although Trump has said Social Security would instead be paid for through the general fund, an AP Fact Check detailed why that's simply not possible and that the move would likely spell doom for the bedrock program of America's social safety net. Biden, on the other hand, has proposed raising payroll taxes on higher-earning Americans to stabilize Social Security. Currently, payroll taxes stop at wages over $137,700. Biden's plan would increase the exemption to income above $400,000, instead.

Related: No Pension. No 401(k). How to Get by on Social Security

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Poorer Seniors Might Receive a Big Increase

As part of his Social Security initiative, Biden has proposed a radical change in how benefits are distributed. The way it's structured now, people who earn more money during their working years get bigger checks when they retire. MarketWatch points out that currently, retirees with lifetime earnings of $10,000 a month get $3,040 in monthly Social Security benefits while those who earned $1,000 a month get $877 — and benefits can drop all the way down to zero for the most destitute Americans. Biden's plan — which the Social Security Administration says could lift more than a half-million seniors out of poverty by 2030 — would increase benefits to the lowest earners, who are least likely to have saved anything for retirement on their own. The poorest Americans would see increases of up to $6,500 a year, a proposition that MarketWatch called "the boldest set of reforms since the creation of Social Security itself."

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Empathy After Death of a Spouse
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Surviving Spouse Benefits Might Go Way Up

Under the current system, the death of a spouse leaves the surviving spouse with either half of their deceased partner's benefits or their own full check — whichever amount is higher. Economists say that formula doesn't consider that household costs aren't cut in half when two people become one. Under Biden's plan, widows and widowers would retain 75% of the couple's combined benefits.

Related: 20 Ways to Prepare for the Loss of a Spouse

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Drug Prices Might Go Down

Biden has made lower drug prices and increased regulations on big pharma a top priority in his platform. Those regulations include ending the exemption that prevents Medicare from using its enrollee numbers to bargain on pricing. It also calls for boosting the supply of comparable generics, ending corporate tax breaks for billions of dollars in pharmaceutical advertising, and limiting price increases to the rate of inflation. On this issue, seniors might benefit no matter who wins. In July, Trump signed an executive order with several provisions aimed at lowering drug prices. The order eliminates payments that the administration calls "kickbacks" to industry middlemen, allows for "safe importation" of key drugs, and requires certain health centers to pass discount-drug savings onto underserved patients.

Related: The Cheapest Pharmacy: Walmart vs. Walgreens vs. CVS and More

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Their Caregivers Might Get a Tax Break

Part of Biden's sprawling health care plan is to create a tax credit for people who take care of older family members who aren't capable of taking care of themselves. The idea is to incentivize people to care for older family members in an effort to relieve the intense pressure on America's nursing homes.

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Their Retirement Taxes Might Change

Currently, tax breaks on most retirement savings plans are proportional to the retiree's tax bracket. This system incentivizes wealthier Americans to save, even though it's already easier for them to set money aside for retirement in the first place. Biden proposes changing the tax structure from the current deduction framework to a percentage-based credit, which would make the tax break equal across all income levels.

Related20 Valuable Tax Breaks for Seniors

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They Might Be Able to Vote by Mail

Trump has loudly and repeatedly attacked mail-in voting as being more susceptible to widespread tampering and voter fraud. He has not produced any evidence to back that claim up because there is none — he and members of his administration routinely vote by mail. Biden has promoted mail-in voting as an extension of the franchise to seniors and other vulnerable populations for whom in-person voting is difficult and as a safety-based necessity during the COVID-19 crisis.

Related: What Other Countries Are Doing to Make Voting Accurate and Accessible

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They Might Be Less Vulnerable to Dying From COVID-19

By mid-August, roughly 170,000 Americans died from the coronavirus. According to the CDC, about 80% of them were seniors. Trump has downplayed the seriousness of the virus from the outset, impeded and ignored his own medical experts, promoted unproven and dangerous experimental treatments, failed to implement a national strategy for testing and contact tracing, tasked unqualified and inexperienced family members to lead crisis-response efforts, sent mixed signals on basic protective measures like wearing masks and practicing social distancing, made repeated false statements about things like transmission rates and the availability of tests, and used press conferences as self-congratulatory quasi-campaign events as the United States became ground zero in the global COVID-19 crisis. 

Joe Biden has outlined a comprehensive virus-response strategy on his website. It's true that ideas like the kind that he's promoting are easy to write down and difficult to implement, but at a minimum, his plan represents a cohesive leadership strategy.

Related: 12 Retirement Dreams That Are Threatened by COVID-19