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Mood of the Nation: Some optimism amid struggles
Vignettes » Interviewees asked about jobs, housing, gas, retirement and more.


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"People aren’t as fearful about any minute they will lose their job," Williams says.

At the same time, she’s disheartened by what she sees as a more polarized nation. It typically happens when Williams, who backs President Barack Obama, talks politics with neighbors who support Mitt Romney.

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"When we have conversations about helping others out, the attitude is, ‘Anybody that’s received any kind of assistance from the government in any way is just a taker.’ Whereas from my experience, I’ve seen families I work with have to use government assistance for specific things... and then are able to then get themselves back on their feet and maybe help someone else."

Average pay in the United States isn’t keeping up with inflation, and some people Williams knows are barely getting by on their paychecks. They’re one medical crisis away from a financial catastrophe. As a health care professional, she also knows people who rely on Medicaid and other public aid and would be vulnerable to federal cuts.

She says she’s fortunate not to have needed government help herself. Williams remained employed throughout the recession even as many states and localities cut jobs.

"People will always need therapy," she says. "My field is in demand."

Together with her husband, an Army reservist and military contractor, Williams has maintained a comfortable upper-middle class lifestyle. They have two children: One is in college; the other is working on an internship and attending college classes.

She’s kept up contributions to her 401(k) and doesn’t fret about retirement. The couple owns a home that’s held its value. This year, they had hardwood floors installed in the kitchen and bathroom.

"The houses in our neighborhood are selling," she says. "If we wanted to get out, we would make a nice profit."

In her view, the president doesn’t deserve all the blame for the still-weak economy or high unemployment, now at 7.9 percent. She wishes Republicans and Democrats would work more cooperatively to strengthen the economy.


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"My dream for America," Williams says, "is that we’ll go back to our core values of taking care of other people and looking out for other people instead of just looking out for ourselves."

— Associated Press Writer Michael Sandler

——

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — When Ray Arvin isn’t worrying about his own financial plight, he’s fretting about the government’s. He’s troubled by gaping budget deficits and galled by what he calls lax leadership in Washington.

What America needs, Arvin says, is to restore a spirit of individual self-reliance. And force the government to become leaner and more responsible.

"I’m against that government-down approach — spending without a thought of how we are going to balance the checkbook," Arvin says.

He tries to live by his own words.

When his company went bust three years ago, Arvin fell into unemployment for several months. He had blown through his savings — more than $100,000 — trying to save his business.

He now works in sales for a company that sells supplies to power companies. His income has shrunk.

Arvin’s 2005 Chevy Suburban has 235,000 miles on it. When gas prices rise, his take-home pay drops. When the car breaks down, he fixes it himself to save money.

"I’ve lost my retirement that I had built up," he says. "I’m having to start from scratch right now, looking at an economy and a government that is going to make my great-grandchildren pay the price for what they’re doing."

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