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Mood Of The Nation: Some Optimism Amid Struggles

"Please don't let this cost an arm and a leg. And please let her be OK," Mitrani recalls saying.

Mitrani is resigned to the fact that her retirement won't be as comfortable as her parents'. Compared with her parents' generation, Mitrani believes Americans today are a bit more materialistic and might need to ratchet back expectations a bit. There's evidence this is happening: Consumers have been saving and reducing debts more, and spending less, than before the financial crisis.

Still, Mitrani sees some reason for optimism. The stock market is coming back: The Standard & Poor's 500 stock index is up more than 12 percent this year. And slowly, clients are beginning to inquire about using her services in 2013.

"They're asking for proposals and planning expansions," she says. "They're starting to talk about the future."

â¿¿ Associated Press Writer Matt Sedensky

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RICHMOND (AP) â¿¿ Vicki Williams says she can see the economy getting better, little by little.

She knows more people who have found jobs in recent months, particularly those with skills and advanced degrees in business or health care. And she sees more friends confident enough in the economy to invest in long-delayed home improvement work.

"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.

"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."

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