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Retirees’ economic concerns drive Florida vote

Mitchell Hartman Nov 3, 2016
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Ruthie and Frank Clark in their home in Sarasota, Florida, surrounded by photos and memorabilia from four decades performing their aerial act in circuses and exhibitions all over the world. Their stage name was "Francarro and Estreleta." Mitchell Hartman/Marketplace

Retirees’ economic concerns drive Florida vote

Mitchell Hartman Nov 3, 2016
Ruthie and Frank Clark in their home in Sarasota, Florida, surrounded by photos and memorabilia from four decades performing their aerial act in circuses and exhibitions all over the world. Their stage name was "Francarro and Estreleta." Mitchell Hartman/Marketplace
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The presidential polls keep tightening — including in the key battleground state of Florida.

The electorate in Florida is dynamic, with a growing Latino population. There’s also an expanding population of retirees, attracted by the state’s low taxes and high temperatures. Florida’s 65+ cohort now tops 3.5 million, and represents more than 15 percent of the state’s population. The number of older residents is expected to top 6 million by 2040, according to the state legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research

Frank and Ruthie Clark are 87 and 76, respectively, and they live in a well-manicured mobile-home park in Sarasota. They’re retired aerialists, who performed in circuses, state fairs and exhibitions around the world as “Francarro and Estreleta” for four decades.

“Essentially he hung by one foot, and, suspended from his neck, I did spins and turns and athletic stuff,” is how Ruthie described their act, which also sometimes included a daredevil modification — doing all that while suspended from a helicopter.

The couple even celebrated their wedding that way, before a packed grandstand, as documented in a video in the collection of the Portage County Historical Society in Wisconsin, where Ruthie grew up in a circus family. 

The Clarks are lifelong Republicans, and although they say they’re not enthusiastic about Donald Trump as the GOP presidential nominee, they said they are voting for him because of his stance on the Supreme Court and the Second Amendment.

Ruthie said the couple doesn’t expect a lot of help from government in their old age.

“Being self-employed all our life, we’ve always tried to picture living without some kind of steady income, even a pension of some kind,” she said.

Frank thinks seniors have gotten a raw deal on Social Security — from Democrats and Republicans.

“Both sides keep saying ‘Well, you’re going to run out of money,’ and to me, it’s impossible that’s something you could run out of,” he said. “It should be permanent and fixed.”

Across town, lifelong Democrats Howard Millman and Carolyn Michel live in an affluent beachfront neighborhood of Sarasota. Millman agreed with Frank Clark that the government should fully fund Social Security.

“Let’s just remember that Social Security is not a privilege,” said Millman. “I’m 85 years old, I have paid for my Social Security. Just pay back what you owe it.”

Millman is a retired theater producer. Michel is an actress. She said she’s had a lot of contentious conversations during this election with wealthy Republican neighbors who say they’re voting for Donald Trump to keep their taxes low. But she said she’s fine with Hillary Clinton raising taxes on wealthy Americans to support government programs for working families and retirees.

“We all assume that Social Security and Medicare will be financed at some point better than it is now,” she said.

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