MATT SEDENSKYMIAMI (AP) â¿¿ 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 was 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. ___ Mitrani's long-time clients are spending cautiously, if at all â¿¿ 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. Mitrani is among many feeling squeezed by a painfully sluggish economic rebound. Unemployment remains high at 7.8 percent. Average pay trails inflation. And the economy is growing too slowly to accelerate hiring. Mitrani's clients in the nonprofit and health care sectors are reluctant to spend on public relations when they may need that money for supplies or other basics, she says. So Mitrani, who used to employ two part-time workers, now runs the business alone. But even with lower overhead, she still feels squeezed. "You're not sure if you're going to get paid this month or next month, or if you're going to have a new client to replace the project that you just finished," she says. Routine utility bills feel like a burden. And thinking about college tuition payments â¿¿ her daughter is a junior at Washington University in St. Louis â¿¿ is "nerve-wracking." More than anything else, though, she laments the endless string of payments for insurance. "Between the car, the house, the health â¿¿ so much of the income goes to insurance that it's hard to get ahead," she says.