A Commerce Department report released Friday showed that U.S. GDP grew at a rate of 2.2 percent in the first quarter, a rate slower than forecasters had anticipated.

The Washington Post’s Peter Whoriskey breaks down the data this way: “People bought more cars, furniture and clothes, boosting the economy even as businesses invested more cautiously and governments, constrained by post-recession budget woes, cut spending. Consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of the economy, rose 2.9 percent in the first quarter, beating expectations.”

Analysts’ reaction to the data ranged from disappointed to optimistic.  The White House sought to cast the numbers in a largely positive light.  At a press question-and-answer session on Air Force One, which was taking the president for a visit to Fort Stewart, Ga., on Friday , Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest touted the bright spots of the Commerce Department’s report.

“Specifically, personal consumption increased by 2.9 percent; that’s an increase from 2.1 percent in the previous quarter,” Earnest said. “We also saw residential home construction increase by about 19 percent.  So there have been four consecutive quarters of improvement in the residential housing sector.  That’s the first time that that’s happened since 2005.”

Still, the spokesman emphasized that the nation is still in a long recovery. “This report illustrates something that the President has long understood,” he said, “which is that there’s quite a bit more work to do, both in terms of the putting in place policies that will help the private sector create jobs, but also ensure that we have policies in place that will benefit middle-class families and those families trying to get into the middle class.”  

Next Friday, the Labor Department will release its unemployment numbers for the month of April, another closely watched indicator of how the U.S. economy is faring.

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