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Mood of the Nation: Some optimism amid struggles

Sunday - 11/4/2012, 10:00am  ET

In this undated photo, Jay Baker, 69, poses in his home in Boca Raton, Fla. Baker owns a flooring business whose revenue dropped after the housing bust. Recently, though, Baker has begun to enjoy a recovery. Polls consistently find that the economy is the top concern of voters, and Romney tends to get an edge over Obama when people are asked who might do better with it. Whether that truly drives how Americans vote is a crucial question for Election Day. (AP Photo/Robert Ray)

The Associated Press

On the eve of the 2012 elections, The Associated Press interviewed dozens of Americans to try to gauge the economic mood of the nation. People were asked about jobs, housing, gas prices, retirement and other issues.

Among them were:

-- Adrienne Cragnotti, 46, and Mike Eiler, 41, of Chicago. She's a self-employed photographer; he's an unemployed former copy editor. Despite career setbacks and a declining living standard, Cragnotti and Eiler remain optimistic.

-- Hilda Mitrani, 51, of North Miami Beach, Fla. The Great Recession and slow economic recovery have devastated her public relations and marketing business. But Mitrani says positive signs are emerging.

-- Vicki Williams, 47, of Mechanicsville, Va., outside Richmond. Williams feels secure in her job as an occupational therapist for a school district. Her view of the economy has brightened. Yet she worries that the nation has drifted away from a political culture that once seemed more inclined to help the needy.

-- Ray Arvin, 47, of Mineral Springs, N.C., outside Charlotte. Arvin has struggled financially since a business he owned that supplied the power and aviation industries collapsed in 2009. He worries about his future and about the direction of the federal government.

-- Jay Baker, 69, of Boca Raton, Fla. He owns a flooring business whose revenue dropped after the housing bust. Recently, though, Baker has begun to enjoy a recovery.

-- Amanda and Chris Folk, both 33, of Billings, Mont. The Folks have endured financial blows since the housing bubble burst. She's back in school. He's earning less money. They worry that their ability to regain financial security is blocked by corporations and their allies in Washington.

Their full stories are below. To watch video of these people, and for more on this topic, go to: http://bigstory.ap.org/topic/mood-of-the-nation

CHICAGO (AP) -- Job market frustrations are the one gray cloud hanging over Adrienne Cragnotti and Mike Eiler's adventuresome life together.

The couple dealt with Eiler's layoff from a Colorado Springs newspaper last December by indulging in diversions they lacked time for when they were working.

They fixed up and sold their century-old house in Colorado, went camping around the West in a vintage travel trailer and visited friends.

Then in July, they moved to Chicago, a city they'd always wanted to live in. Ditching most belongings, they rented a 350-square-foot studio apartment in the city's upscale Lincoln Park neighborhood and moved in with their two cats.

But the tightening squeeze of long-term unemployment threatens their future, as it does for many other Americans. More than 5 million people have been out of work for six months or more, up from 2.7 million when President Barack Obama took office.

Eiler, who worked as a copy editor, has been job-hunting unsuccessfully for nearly a year. He has found few suitable job openings in journalism or related fields -- and heavier competition than he expected.

Cragnotti brings home only limited pay from her photography and modest rental income from a house she owns in Los Angeles. Demand for the glamour photography she specializes in has dropped. So she is branching out to different kinds of photography in search of more income.

After Eiler's unemployment checks stop coming in December, they'll need to dip into savings to get by.

That could prompt more cutbacks to their lifestyle. Eiler remains optimistic. But he figures their standard of living "will have to be worse for a little while before it gets better."

"As bad as it might seem, the self-pity of not having a job, we're hardly eating out of a Dumpster," he says. "We're pretty fortunate." But, he adds: "It's more difficult than I thought it would be to find a new job.

The unemployment rate fell to 7.8 percent in September, the first time it has dipped below 8 percent in 43 months, but ticked up to 7.9 percent in October.

Cragnotti's glad the U.S. economy and job outlook seem to be slowly picking up. But she's eager to see it translate to more than just numbers in the news.

"Our personal economy is not that great," she says.

-- Associated Press Writer Dave Carpenter

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MIAMI (AP) -- Hilda Mitrani's long-time clients are spending cautiously, if at all -- and she has had to adjust her own lifestyle as a result.

She delays making home repairs. She keeps an eye on the thermostat. And only occasionally, she's able to treat herself to a new pair of shoes.

"It's been a hard recovery," says the single mother of two children.

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