Consumer confidence was up in February for the sixth straight month, according to a leading barometer, as a record number of people said they were aware of recent gains in the jobs market.
The optimism led to the highest number of consumers since 2004 saying they expected the unemployment rate to drop, according to data released Friday by the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan Survey of Consumers.
But despite the more upbeat perspective, Americans reported their personal finances were still in rough shape.
For the 41st straight month, more households said their income had declined than increased from the previous month. And for more than a year now -- 28 consecutive months -- a majority of respondents said they did not anticipate their household income increasing over the next year.
Still, overall consumer confidence continued to climb after bottoming out last summer amid the partisan debate in Washington over raising the debt ceiling and the subsequent downgrade of the U.S. credit rating by Standard & Poor's. The group's consumer sentiment index was 54.9 in August, the lowest since 1980.
The index rose to 75.3 in February, up 0.4% from the previous month and slightly below the reading a year ago.
“Consumers have shrugged off concerns about rising gas prices, the European crisis, and election year politics, preferring to focus on the favorable impact of job growth," Survey of Consumers chief economist Richard Curtin said. "A potential threat is that consumers expect too much too soon. Improved job prospects may entice many more people to seek work, easily outstripping the number of new jobs created."
Survey respondents were keenly aware of the improving economic conditions, particularly in the job market. Unemployment dipped to 8.3% in January after the government reported the economy created 243,000 net new jobs. The rate was 9.1% in August.
The highest percentage of respondents since the survey began in 1946 spontaneously offered last month that they had heard about recent employment gains, the survey said.