09/09/2011 04:23 EDT | Updated 11/09/2011 05:12 EST

The decade following 9-11 has left Americans war-weary and recession-plagued

NEW YORK, N.Y. - It's a sunny afternoon in lower Manhattan -- the clear, sunny skies reminiscent of the glorious conditions a decade ago -- and the streets are clogged even more than usual thanks to a maze of checkpoints around Ground Zero, the site of the deadliest terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The city is gearing up for a weekend of remembrance on par with the types of ceremonies that once marked the assassination of John F. Kennedy almost 50 years ago and the bombing of Pearl Harbor 22 years before that.

Security measures were already heightened due to the 10th anniversary events, but they went into overdrive on Friday upon word that authorities were investigating credible al-Qaida terrorist threats, likely involving car bombs, in both New York City and Washington, D.C.

The scene in New York's Penn Station was typical of the situation throughout the city -- dozens of heavily armed police officers and bomb-sniffing dogs swarmed the complex.

Police officers rooted through backpacks, handbags and briefcases in Penn Station and on the subway while closely monitoring the city's tunnels and bridges. Traffic slowed to a crawl, wholly gridlocked in some places, as vehicles were stopped at countless checkpoints.

"You gotta be kidding me," one man in an SUV said to police after they insisted he get out while they looked inside. "I'm just trying to get home so I can pick up my kid from day care."

And yet for the most part, New Yorkers seemed to be taking the events in stride, apparently following Mayor Michael Bloomberg's advice to be vigilant but go about their daily business.

"I haven't seen this much security here since right after 9-11, but that's fine; I am glad they're doing it," Luis Munoz, a janitor on his lunch break from a nearby office building, said as he picked up a sandwich at a Penn Station coffee shop.

Others who live their lives in New York City, cynical at the best of times, said they understood the heightened security. But the hoopla surrounding the 10th anniversary was a whole other story.

"Too much politics," said Joseph Wang, a limo driver who cursed the traffic jams as he waited outside City Hall to head uptown with a city official.

"This is all the mayor trying to make himself look good. He's in trouble after the blizzard this winter, he wasn't prepared, and ever since then he does everything too much. Way too much. New York doesn't like this stuff."

Chelsea Klein, a native New Yorker showing a friend from out of town the sights, shared similar sentiments as she ate lunch at a diner near Ground Zero.

"I totally get that it's an important anniversary and that a terrible thing happened here that shouldn't ever be forgotten, but I kind of really want us to just move on," said Klein, who was 15 when terrorists flew two jetliners into the twin towers of the World Trade Center a decade ago.

"It's just a really awful day to remember, and it isn't like anything really good came out of it. It just seemed to lead to even more terrible stuff, like the wars and the economy and the recession."

War-weary and recession-plagued, few Americans can point to even the flimsiest silver lining to the dreadful events as they mark the 10th anniversary of 9-11 on Sunday.

The past 10 years, indeed, have not been kind to Americans. As the trauma of 9-11 faded slightly, the wars overseas began to take an increasing emotional and economic toll, with some 6,200 American soldiers dying in the conflicts that have all but bankrupted the country.

"The American era of endless war," the Washington Post recently dubbed it.

The misery of Americans lifted only briefly when U.S. President Barack Obama was elected three years ago on a message of hope and change, vowing to do things differently as the overwhelmingly reviled Bush retired in Texas.

But since that historic election, Americans are still waiting for that change, while a poll released earlier this week suggests they have little hope.

According to the Washington Post-ABC News survey, just 43 per cent approve of Obama's job performance, the lowest level of his presidency. More than two-thirds of Americans who voted for him also said the country is badly off course.

Many in Obama's liberal base have been bitterly disappointed that the president escalated the war in Afghanistan and failed to close the Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Cuba, set up to house the suspected terrorists detained during the war on terror.

The post-911 decade hasn't been America's finest, Louise Slaughter, a Democratic congresswoman, said earlier this week.

"It's been a terrible one, and I'm not sure that in many ways the goal wasn't to bankrupt us," Slaughter said of the terrorist masterminds who engineered the 9-11 attacks.

Running up the national debt to astronomical levels in order to pay for the war on terror is why the U.S. is dealing with such an enduring financial mess that is tearing at the country's seams, she pointed out.

"The fact that we're paying $12 billion a month for the war is just devastating to us. It's all borrowed .... about $3 trillion in total; it's appalling," Slaughter said.

"If we're going to try to get our deficit in order here, and set the country on sound financial footing, we've got to deal with that war."

Americans apparently share Slaughter's antipathy about the war, according to another Washington Post-ABC News survey.

Conducted before news emerged about the most recent terrorist threats, the survey suggested Americans were feeling more secure than they had in years. But they weren't sold on whether the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq played any part in their sense of security.

The poll found that confidence that the U.S. was safe from terrorism has rebounded sharply in the past year, with most Americans expressing satisfaction with the steps taken in response to 9-11, in particular improvements in intelligence and domestic security.

But only 52 per cent of Americans polled said the prolonged conflict in Afghanistan has done anything to reduce the risk of terrorist attack in the U.S., while ever fewer -- 46 per cent -- say the war in Iraq had made the country safer.