It would seem Betty White, 76, has little to worry about. She owns the home she's lived in for 40 years, and has a secure pension plan and steady health coverage from Medicare. Despite her better-than-average situation, she finds it difficult to say anything positive about the economy.
"When I was growing up, the harder you worked, the more you got from it. If you wanted to make the effort — more hours, overtime — the more you'd make, and the more you'd get ahead," White, of Midvale, Utah, says.
"It's not the same these days. Today, the more you make and the harder you work, the more you pay in taxes."
Newly retired, White worked at a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center until her employer shut down last year. White, who has always seen herself as frugal, knows how to survive in difficult times.
"I grew up poor," she says. "We learned how to make do and do without."
But like 50% of her Prudent Pessimist counterparts, she is afraid younger generations won't be able to repeat the lifestyle she enjoyed.
"I don't know how (my kids and grandkids) are going to be able to pay rent and other expenses," she says.
White doesn't attribute the current economic crisis to just one factor. Illegal immigration, free trade and lack of domestic jobs all play a part, she says.
"Combining all of those problems with the debt, we're in trouble," White says.
And this Prudent Pessimist doesn't see it getting better soon.
She's even more downbeat than the average member of her group. While 87% of Prudent Pessimists don't expect the economy to recover in the next three years, she's not counting on a comeback for at least six years.
"I am hopeful," she says, "but doubtful."
Bad Shape and Suffering
•Everyone in this group (100%) says their personal financial situation is "only fair or poor."
•The highest percentage of any group (74%) say they are "spenders, not savers."
•The highest percentage of any group (62%) say their personal finances are affected by factors outside their control.
•This group is the least likely of any to own stocks (45%) or a home (60%).
Folks who are in this group are in bad financial shape, and they know it.
However, they're trying to do something about it: 85%, the highest percentage of any group, say they've cut household spending because of recent economic pressures.
Even so, they're more worried about their own financial situation than that of the nation as a whole. They feel very vulnerable, and perhaps for good reason.
This group has the highest percentages of unemployed (60%), more people with the lowest household income (50% earn less than $40,000) and the fewest who are married (40%).
They're people such as Nakita Wise, 51, of Louisville.
Until recently, Wise worked as a prep-chef at a Bob Evans restaurant. But arthritis recently forced her to stay off her feet — costing her the job and making it difficult for her to pay bills and growing medical expenses.
She's feeling the effects of the struggling economy, and it hurts.
"It's put people in depression; it put me in a hard spot," she says. "It's just ugly."
Wise, who in February 2008 had one of her knees replaced, is struggling to re-enter the workforce. She's recently divorced and finding limited opportunities.
"It's hard to get a job because I'm not too good with computers," Wise says.