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Mood Of The Nation: Some Optimism Amid Struggles

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.

"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."

â¿¿ Associated Press Writer Michael Sandler

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) â¿¿ 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.

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