The bank account is thin, but the future looks pretty good.
That, oddly enough, is the view of many Americans who predict 2010 will be a better year than this one, even if they fear that the U.S. economy and their own financial circumstances won't improve.
A whopping 82 percent are optimistic about what the new year will bring for their families, according to the latest AP-GfK poll. That sunny outlook seems at odds with other findings.
Nearly two-thirds think their family finances will worsen or stay about the same next year.
And fewer than half think the nation's economy will improve in 2010, even though Americans rated 2009 as a huge downer.
Mari Flanigan of South Milwaukee, Wis., is one of those who feel fairly optimistic that things will go better at a personal level in 2010 even though her financial situation might grow worse.
Flanigan, 36, is unemployed after selling a family business that faced increasing competition.
"Financially, I'm scared," she said in an interview.
Rather than seek new work, however, she is thinking of returning to school to become a social worker. "I'd rather make less money and do something I love," Flanigan said, noting that happiness and optimism are not strictly tied to finances.
The poll found that nearly three-fourths of Americans think 2009 was a bad year for the country, which was rocked by job losses, home foreclosures and economic sickness. Forty-two percent rated it "very bad."
That's clearly worse than in 2006, the last time a similar poll was taken. The survey that year found that 58 percent of Americans felt the nation had suffered a bad year, and 39 percent considered it a good year.
Fewer than half as many people, 16 percent, said their family had a "very good year" in 2009 as said that in 2006.
Behind the gloominess, however, are more hopeful views that seem to reflect Americans' traditional optimism or, perhaps, wishful thinking.
Three in five Americans said their own family had a good year in 2009.
Some 72 percent of Americans said they're optimistic about what 2010 will bring for the country. Even more are hopeful about what the year will bring for their families.
But in 2009, every corner of the country saw steep job losses, and the national unemployment rate stands at 10 percent. Millions of Americans saw their savings or retirement accounts shrink, and many are rethinking how long they will have to work, and where they might find income.
Marcia Andrews of Blairsville, Pa., was a high school nurse until budget cuts eliminated her job.
Andrews, 69, spent $250,000 to convert an old house into a bed-and-breakfast, but the drop in tourism forced her to put it up for sale. "It was the wrong place and the wrong time," she said, adding that she also lost money in the stock market.
Andrews feels the nation suffered a very bad year, too, although things might not be quite as bad as she thinks. She said she sensed a hike in U.S. violence, especially robberies, but statistics don't support that. Preliminary FBI figures for the first half of 2009 showed crime falling across the nation, with robberies down by 6.5 percent.
Despite her setbacks, Andrews said she thinks 2010 will be better for her personally and for the nation.
"I have to be optimistic," she said. "I always feel that I can pull out of things. ... I don't know how it's going to happen, but I think it will."
Americans are not optimistic, however, about the nation's two wars. Thirty-one percent think the situation in Afghanistan will get better, while 67 percent think it will stay the same or get worse. The results were about the same for Iraq.
Given that President Barack Obama took office in 2009 and Democrats hold solid majorities in Congress, perhaps it's not surprising that Democrats have a brighter view of the current and coming years than do Republicans.
Only 10 percent of Republicans said 2009 was a good year, compared with about one-third of Democrats and independents. A robust 87 percent of Democrats are optimistic about what 2010 will bring for the country, compared with 53 percent of Republicans and 73 percent of independents.
People's views of their personal circumstances divide along partisan lines, too.
Only one in five Republicans think their family's finances will improve in 2010. Nearly half of Democrats and 40 percent of independents hold that view.
Steve Bishop, 59, of Middletown, Calif., said he's pleased the government is trying to overhaul the nation's health care system.
"At least we're addressing the problem finally, and it could be fine-tuned as we go on in later years," said Bishop, a Democrat and retired U.S. Forest Service manager.
H. June Clark, a Republican retiree in Fort Wayne, Ind., is not as cheery. And she has a warning for all politicians.
A daughter and her husband, both teachers, were laid off for part of 2009, said Clark, 82, who once worked as a server at a country club. Some family members are still out of work, she said.
Clark thinks the nation is headed toward socialism, and she wants a wholesale change in elected officials, no matter their party affiliation.
"I think they have just destroyed our faith in government and I want them out," she said. "I don't care if we get independents, populists, whatever. I just want them out."
The AP-GfK Poll was conducted Dec. 10-14 by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Media and involved landline and cell phone interviews of 1,001 adults nationwide. It has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.
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