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Americans see trouble, but not at home

MANY Americans say families, communities, and workplaces are falling apart - just not their own. They say the underpinnings of society - from the United States Congress to schools to neighborhoods - are collapsing. Yet Americans generally like their own member of Congress, their own children's schools, and the safety of their own neighborhoods. `` `The problem is with thee, not me.' That's essentially what I keep hearing,'' says Maureen Michaels, a New York City researcher who supervised a survey, released late this month, for Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company.

In interviews, some observers attribute this dichotomy to Americans' struggle to keep an even keel in the face of profound social transformations. Others say Americans have degenerated since the 1960s and now shirk their responsibility to others. A third school of thought holds that Americans have been duped into an exaggerated pessimism by the media, the Republican Party, the religious right, and other entities.

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In the survey, about 75 percent said they are living up to their commitments to spouses, children, and employers. And 90 percent say others are welshing on their obligations..

``What they're really saying is, `Everywhere I look, there's deterioration.... But I'm really, really trying,' '' says Rebecca Shahmoon Shanok, a psychologist who helped develop the survey. The survey was based on phone interviews with a random national sample of 1,021 adults. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percent.

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