MATT SEDENSKYWEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (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 a man in Boca Raton, Fla.: Jay Baker, 69. He owns a flooring business whose revenue dropped after the housing bust. Recently, though, Baker has begun to enjoy a recovery. ___ The low point for Brookside Flooring came two or three years ago. The housing bubble had wrecked South Florida's home market. Construction barely existed. Companies were closing or shedding staff. Baker's company managed to survive. But it suffered. Now? Business has rebounded in the past few months. Sales are still down by about a third since 2008. But when you've withstood a savage housing bust, any sustained improvement feels gratifying. "Slowly but surely, it's coming back," Baker says. "I really can't pinpoint it. All I know is that it's getting better, and it makes me happy." Baker sees the overall economy strengthening, too â¿¿ and for that, he credits President Barack Obama for pushing his economic agenda against sharp Republican resistance. U.S. unemployment has dipped, Baker notes. Stock prices have surged more than 13 percent this year. Consumers are more confident and spending a bit more. When more people are working, Baker says, everyone who depends on a robust economy gains. People aren't just more apt to replace the flooring in their home or business, he says. Restaurants and clothing stores benefit. So do auto dealers, contractors and furniture shops. "In a small town, when a large business goes out of business, the people are out of a job, but all of the small businesses are affected, too," he says. "When business is better, everybody's affected."
Which helps explain why, despite his setbacks, Baker remains an optimist.But also a realist. To blunt the pain of higher gasoline prices, for example, he's invested in a Toyota Prius for the long run. His home's value has tumbled. And while it's still worth more than he paid for it about 13 years ago, Baker hardly expects its value to soar in coming years. He's confident his business will thrive â¿¿ if the construction industry can sustain its gradual recovery and if employers eventually start hiring as freely as they did before the Great Recession struck nearly five years ago. "My wish for America is to get out of any recession or depression and go positive," Baker says. "Let people have jobs again." ___ To watch video of Baker and for more on this topic, go to: http://bigstory.ap.org/topic/mood-of-the-nation