Montoya's prescription for better times: ending the partisan bickering in Washington and having both parties work together again to get things done. "They need to get together and come out with some better policies," Montoya said.

'Make the people happy'

John Mayes sees glimmers of an economy getting better – more construction, crowded restaurants, customers of his small medical supply business spending a bit more. "Things are opening up and going in the right direction." He voted for President Barack Obama, and said he's doing a good job.

Mayes, 49, offered this advice to the president: "Don't make Congress happy. Make the American people happy when it comes to jobs, growth, money. If the American people are happy, they'll spend money and the economy will grow."

Working harder to get by

There's not much a frustrated Chad Stewart expects to hear from the president. Fueling his truck at a BP station on Federal Highway in Pompano Beach before rushing to his next appointment, said he expects he'll be too tired to watch the State of the Union. Besides, he said, it's a waste of time.

Stewart, 42, is a contract lineman for utility companies, with 12 employees and two crews. The economy is so bad he now must work 11 or 12 hours a day to make ends meet. A Republican, he "of course" voted for Mitt Romney, the party's presidential candidate, last November, he said.

Obama has "made me have to work seven days a week," Stewart said. "I haven't had to work this hard to make a living, ever. I've worked this hard to acquire things, but not to make a living."

Looking for action, not words

Ruth Calixte, of Pompano Beach, graduated in 2011 with an electrical engineering degree from the University of Florida. At 26, she's unemployed, despite her specialized education.

Calixte voted for Obama, but doesn't have great faith that his message on Tuesday night will be transformative or that Washington will do anything to help her situation.

"Everyone stands up and claps," she said. "For me, honestly, there's nothing he can say in the State of the Union that I'm particularly interested [in]. I'm more of an action kind of person. I'd like to see the action that he'd take after the State of the Union."

On the positive side, she said she thinks the president can turn some of the slogans in this year's speech into action. Having been re-elected in 2012, Calixte said, Obama no longer has to pander for votes. "I think he can do some of the things that he says," she said.

Despite being unemployed, Calixte said she remains optimistic for herself and the nation. "All together, I think things are not as bad as people would like to make them seem," she said.

'I don't think it's him at fault'

Things are so tight these days for carpenter Kevin Hadler that he can't afford to replace the balky cell phone be uses to line up carpentry jobs. When the device acts up, he pops out the battery and puts it back in. That seems to make it work again for a time.

Life isn't the way it was 10 years ago. "It's a struggle," said Hadler, 38, of Pompano Beach, who works with his nephew, David Hadler, 30. "I make just enough to pay the bills. I can't afford the 150 bucks to get a new [phone]."

The Hadlers were visiting the Deerfield Beach Fishing Pier one weekday when they'd have preferred to be working. They said they only find enough jobs to keep them busy about two weeks out of every month.

Both men are registered Democrats who voted for Obama – and neither blames him for the continued economic malaise.

"I don't think it's him at fault," said David Hadler. "I think it's the Senate and Congress, fighting him tooth and nail."