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Mood Of The Nation: Some Optimism Amid Struggles

"Everything I worked so hard for is just slipping away," Chris Folk says. "It just feels so far away to get back to where we were."

The Folks can't afford to save for retirement. They struggle to cover $1,280 in monthly rent. Gasoline expenses sometimes hit $600 a month to fuel Chris' van, so he can reach out-of-town flooring jobs.

They say the economy seems tilted: Big banks wield power. Legislators bow to corporate interests. The rich get richer while the working class fall further behind.

They're voting for President Barack Obama with no enthusiasm. Yet they say their discontent with his handling of the economy is outweighed by Mitt Romney's corporate ties.

Amanda Folk is pursuing a communications degree at Montana State University, Billings. She's "scared to death" she won't find a job in public relations or a related field after graduation to repay $25,000 in student loans.

She hasn't returned to their Idaho house in two years; she can't bear it. Vandals have broken in. A former neighbor has taken to mowing the lawn. The couple is reluctant to rent the house for fear that their lender would end up with whatever money they collected.

They've cancelled their home phone and Internet service. Amanda Folk no longer shops at an organic food co-op.

They're seeking a smaller place to rent. But they don't want to move far. Their daughter has cycled through four elementary schools in the past few years.

"The hardest part is the psychological part of it," Amanda Folk says. "Our kids don't have any sense of security. My daughter still asks, 'Are we going to be here next year?'"

â¿¿ Associated Press Writer Matthew Brown

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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