WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. consumer confidence has rebounded to the highest reading in six years, providing a further sign that the economy's prospects should brighten with warmer weather.
The Conference Board said Tuesday that its confidence index rose to 82.3 this month from a February reading of 78.3. It was the strongest reading since the index stood at 87.3 in January 2008, just as the Great Recession was beginning.
Conference Board economist Lynn Franco said consumers are moderately more upbeat about future job prospects and the overall economy, though less optimistic about income growth.
"Overall, consumers expect the economy to continue improving and believe it may even pick up a little steam in the months ahead," Franco said.
Consumer confidence is closely watched because consumer spending accounts for about 70 percent of economic activity.
The strength in the index this month came from an increase in consumers' expectations, which offset a slight decline in their view of current conditions.
The number of people who felt jobs were hard to get rose slightly to 33 percent, up from 32.4 percent in February. Economists expect views about the labor market to brighten as employers increase the pace of hiring.
Employers added 175,000 jobs in February, far more than in the previous two months, and many private economists foresee solid job gains ahead.
Many see the economy finally gaining momentum this year. The latest outlook from top forecasters at the National Association for Business Economics expect the overall economy, as measured by the gross domestic product, will expand 3.1 percent this year. That would be a substantial increase from last year's lackluster 1.9 percent growth. If that target is reached, it would be the best performance in nine years.
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