For all their differences, Americans largely agree on two things: 2009 was a lousy year for the nation, and 2010 is likely to be better.
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,” according to the latest AP-GfK poll.
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.
Even though most said it was a bad year for the country, three in five Americans said their own families had a good year in 2009, while about two in five called it a bad year.
Some 72 percent of Americans said they're optimistic about what 2010 will bring for the country. Even more, four in five, are optimistic about what the year will bring for their families.
Curiously, however, nearly two-thirds think their family finances will worsen or stay about the same next year.
Every corner of the country saw steep job losses this year, 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,” said Andrews, one of those surveyed in mid December. On top of that, she lost money in the stock market.
Despite signs that the nation is edging away from the worst aspects of a severe recession, people remain largely downbeat about the economy. Fewer than half think the economy will get better in 2010, while slightly more than half think it will worsen or stay about the same.
Just more than a third think their own families' finances will get better, while almost two-thirds think their finances will stay the same or get worse.
James Lewis, who just retired in Alton, Ill., called 2009 a “financial disaster” for America, and he fears 2010 won't be much better.
Lewis, 62, said of the past year: “Everything done wrong. Everybody losing their 401(k). Some people losing their house, their retirement.”
He is pessimistic about 2010, pointing blame at financial institutions and government officials.
“They've made a mess, and they're going to have a hard time cleaning it up,” said Lewis, who calls himself a political independent. Government regulators, he said, “dropped the ball.”
Lewis said 2009 wasn't too bad for him personally, but some members of his family “can't find a job that pays enough to live.” He said he doesn't have much hope — “maybe a little” — that they will find work in 2010.
Americans are not optimistic about the nation's two wars. Thirty-one percent think the situation in Afghanistan will get better, while 67 percent think it 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 enjoyed solid majorities in Congress, perhaps it's not surprising that Democrats have a sunnier view of the current and coming years than Republicans do.
Only 10 percent of Republicans said 2009 was a good year, compared with about one-third of Democrats and independents.