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What Americans want from the next president

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In Cedar Rapids, on the other side of the state, Adam Miller sees the world crowding in on Iowa as well. His concern isn't foreigners coming to America to take local jobs as much as it is local jobs going to foreigners overseas. He's watched friends lose their positions at factories when the work was moved offshore, mainly to China.

There used to be "a job on every corner," he says. "If you saw a job site and said, 'Hey, I can pick up something heavy and put it down where you tell me,' you'd be working 50 hours that week. It's not like that anymore."

He wants Washington to end tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas. He calls companies "patriotic" that put country over profits. But he's not optimistic change will come. Until corporate campaign contributions are limited, he worries that big business will be able to operate any way it wants.

"I think the American dream has changed a lot," he says. "There used to be a genuine dream that you were going to work hard and it was going to pay off. That's not the case anymore. Half the people's dream is to just get by. It's a realization more than a dream."

Work versus grandkids in Wisconsin

Shirley Thalmann's dreams haven't been shattered, just delayed. The 60-year-old resident of Platteville, a college town in the rumpled hills of southwestern Wisconsin, wanted to be retired by now. But she isn't – and can't.

She's followed the rules her whole life. She's worked hard, saved her money. But when the stock market crashed in 2003, and again in 2008-09, she and her husband saw their portfolio plummet. Now Ms. Thalmann is looking at working well into her 60s – a time when she wanted to be with her grandchildren.

"I don't want to [work]," she says. "I have grandchildren, but I can't see them because they're three and four hours away."

She believes Social Security and Medicare will make life more manageable in her senior years. But she also thinks those programs need to be reformed to make them viable for the generations behind her.

To do that, Thalmann feels Washington should adopt more of the thriftiness synonymous with the upper Midwest.

"The government needs to run itself like we run our household," she says. "You can't keep spending what you don't have."

Cuts need to be made, she adds, but not without thinking about how they will affect people. "They [lawmakers] have to start balancing and prioritizing, but do it in a way that's not going to hurt the little people so much," she says. "The rich should pay their fair share, too. They have [tax] loopholes that the common man doesn't."

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