CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- 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 Ray Arvin, 47, of Mineral Springs, N.C., outside Charlotte. Arvin has struggled financially since a business he owned that supplied the power and aviation industries collapsed in 2009. He worries about his future and about the direction of the federal government.
When Arvin isn't worrying about his own financial plight, he's fretting about the government's. He's troubled by gaping budget deficits and galled by what he calls lax leadership in Washington.
What America needs, Arvin says, is to restore a spirit of individual self-reliance. And force the government to become leaner and more responsible.
"I'm against that government-down approach — spending without a thought of how we are going to balance the checkbook," Arvin says.
He tries to live by his own words.
When his company went bust three years ago, Arvin fell into unemployment for several months. He had blown through his savings — more than $100,000 — trying to save his business.
He now works in sales for a company that sells supplies to power companies. His income has shrunk.
Arvin's 2005 Chevy Suburban has 235,000 miles on it. When gas prices rise, his take-home pay drops. When the car breaks down, he fixes it himself to save money.
"I've lost my retirement that I had built up," he says. "I'm having to start from scratch right now, looking at an economy and a government that is going to make my great-grandchildren pay the price for what they're doing."
Political leaders in Washington leave him shaking his head. It isn't just President Barack Obama. Arvin opposes Obama. But he's also appalled by the actions of long-serving politicians.
"We have too many people in government who have made it their career to be in government," he says. "And they don't seem to be in it for the country. They seem to be in it for themselves or their party."
He isn't looking for the government to help restore his financial security. He says he'll keep working hard and hope for the best.
It's an impulse rooted in American culture, he says.
"What made our country great," Arvin says, "was people sucking it up, working hard and being energized to go in a direction because they could believe in their dreams and know their dreams were possible because they believed in themselves."
One way he thinks he may realize that dream is with an invention he hopes catches fire: A makeup case Arvin decided to design after noticing how powder from his wife's compact case would spill.
His wife is trying to turn the cases into a business. He says she's sold hundreds of them at trade shows and on eBay. And Arvin is seeking a patent for his design.
"Maybe this will take off," he says. "Who knows? But you just have to keep trying and not give up. That's the American way."
To watch video of Arvin and for more on this topic, go to: http://bigstory.ap.org/topic/mood-of-the-nation