"Our personal economy is not that great," she says.
— Associated Press Writer Dave Carpenter
MIAMI (AP) — Hilda Mitrani's long-time clients are spending cautiously, if at all — 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 — her daughter is a junior at Washington University in St. Louis — is "nerve-wracking."
More than anything else, though, she laments the endless string of payments for insurance. "Between the car, the house, the health — so much of the income goes to insurance that it's hard to get ahead," she says.
She rations healthcare for herself to cut down on co-pays. And when her daughter needed medical attention earlier this year, she found herself saying dueling prayers in the hospital.
"Please don't let this cost an arm and a leg. And please let her be OK," Mitrani recalls saying.
Mitrani is resigned to the fact that her retirement won't be as comfortable as her parents'. Compared with her parents' generation, Mitrani believes Americans today are a bit more materialistic and might need to ratchet back expectations a bit. There's evidence this is happening: Consumers have been saving and reducing debts more, and spending less, than before the financial crisis.
Still, Mitrani sees some reason for optimism. The stock market is coming back: The Standard & Poor's 500 stock index is up more than 12 percent this year. And slowly, clients are beginning to inquire about using her services in 2013.
"They're asking for proposals and planning expansions," she says. "They're starting to talk about the future."
— Associated Press Writer Matt Sedensky
RICHMOND (AP) — Vicki Williams says she can see the economy getting better, little by little.
She knows more people who have found jobs in recent months, particularly those with skills and advanced degrees in business or health care. And she sees more friends confident enough in the economy to invest in long-delayed home improvement work.
"People aren't as fearful about any minute they will lose their job," Williams says.
At the same time, she's disheartened by what she sees as a more polarized nation. It typically happens when Williams, who backs President Barack Obama, talks politics with neighbors who support Mitt Romney.
"When we have conversations about helping others out, the attitude is, 'Anybody that's received any kind of assistance from the government in any way is just a taker.' Whereas from my experience, I've seen families I work with have to use government assistance for specific things... and then are able to then get themselves back on their feet and maybe help someone else."
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.