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Post Partisan
Posted at 09:20 AM ET, 05/16/2012

Faint glimmers of hope on the economy

Two polls out yesterday — one more dramatic than the other — show signs that folks are feeling a little bit better about the nation’s economic future. And the Commerce Department released data yesterday that buttress those rosier feelings.

The New York Times poll showed a slight uptick in respondents’ thoughts on the economy. Last month, 33 percent thought the economy was “getting better” and 28 percent thought it was “getting worse.” In this month’s survey, 36 percent said “getting better” and 24 percent said “getting worse.” Nothing to celebrate over, to be sure. But this is an
improvement over last year this time when the “getting better-getting worse” spread was 23 percent to 39 percent.

The USA Today-Gallup poll shows a similar sourness about the current state of the economy, with 71 percent saying economic conditions are “poor.” Yet, when asked “how do you think it be will a year from now,” 58 percent of respondents said “good.” That’s great news, especially since the economy thrives on consumer confidence — and spending. It’s the spending piece that is a tad problematic.

Commerce reported yesterday that consumer spending overall was limp. But, according to the Associated Press story on the data, there were some silver linings.

Still, there were positive signs suggesting that tepid spending in April might prove to be a temporary lull.
Americans spent more on autos, furniture and electronics — big purchases that help drive growth. They also spent more at restaurants and bars, which is generally a sign of confidence in the economy.
Excluding autos, gas station sales and spending on building materials, core retail sales increased 0.4 percent. One reason for the weakness was that gasoline prices have fallen sharply in the past month. The national average dropped to roughly $3.73 per gallon Tuesday, roughly 17 cents cheaper than a month ago, according to a survey by AAA. That pulled sales at service stations down 0.3 percent.

Just in case you missed it: The average gas price nationally has fallen 17 cents over the past month.

These are all good signs for a nation weary of bad economic news. But we’re not out of the woods yet. And, as the polls still suggest, everyone knows it.

By  |  09:20 AM ET, 05/16/2012

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