Consumer confidence receives boost

WASHINGTON — The Conference Board said Tuesday that its Consumer Confidence Index reached its highest level in eight months as Americans grew more optimistic about the job market.

The index climbed to 60.6 this month, up from 53.3 in December. While that reading surpassed expectations, it still fell short of the 90 level that indicates a healthy consumer mindset.

The January figure was the highest since last May's 62.7. The index has not risen above 90 since the recession began in December 2007.

However, in the Conference Board survey, the percentage of people surveyed who felt jobs were hard to get fell slightly to 43.4% from 46% in December. The share who expected to see more jobs six months from now rose to 16% from 14.2%.

While confidence has stayed weak since the recession ended in summer 2009, consumer spending has been picking up. During the 2010 holiday shopping season, sales increased at the fastest rate in six years. Economists are hoping that consumer confidence will keep improving in 2011 as the economy begins to show greater signs of strength and unemployment declines.

The jobless rate fell to 9.4% in December from 9.8% in November, but the economy added only 103,000 jobs. Employers added 1.1 million jobs for all of 2010, or about 94,000 a month. The nation still has 7.2 million fewer jobs than it did in December 2007, when the recession began. But many economists expect the nation will create twice as many jobs this year as it did last year.