Americans do see a flicker of light at the end what has been a long tunnel.

Four years ago, just 13% of Americans said they were satisfied with the way things were going in the USA. At the time, financial institutions from big banks to the auto industry were in crisis as the economic contracted and unemployment soared. Now, 23% express satisfaction with the country’s course — still significantly lower than when previous recent presidents took office for their second terms. For Bush in 2005, 45% were satisfied; for Bill Clinton in 1997, 43%; for Ronald Reagan in 1985, 52%.

Memories of the economic travails of the past few years are fresh. Jackson was laid off when her employer decided to contract out customer services; after five weeks the new firm hired her back but with less generous health care coverage and no 401(k) retirement plan. Pierce has watched as the low- and moderate-income families in housing units he manages struggle, “affording less, living on shoe strings, eating ramen” noodles.

In the poll, more than a third say either they or one of their closest family members have suffered a “major financial setback” in the past year; just one in five report a major financial gain in their family. While the economy, in fact, is growing again — the recession officially ended in June 2009 — just a third of Americans see it that way. They’re outnumbered by the 44% who say it’s in a recession or a depression.