By Lenore Fedow
The consumer confidence index rose to 101.8 in September compared with 86.3 in August.
New York—U.S. consumer confidence increased in September to its highest level since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The Conference Board’s consumer confidence index rose to 101.8 in September compared with 86.3 in August, higher than the 89.6 economists had expected.

The 16-point jump was the largest one-month increase in the index in 17 years.

It was also the highest level the index has reached since the start of the pandemic. The index hit a six-year low of 85.7 in April as the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered stores and parts of the country went into lockdown.

“A more favorable view of current business and labor market conditions, coupled with renewed optimism about the short-term outlook, helped spur this month’s rebound in confidence,” said Lynn Franco, senior director of economic indicators at The Conference Board, in a press release announcing the results.

Economists, including Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, have stressed that economic recovery is dependent on how well the U.S. handles the virus.

While consumer confidence did rise after back-to-back monthly declines, Franco noted it still remains below pre-pandemic levels.

For comparison, the index was at 132.6 in February before the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

However, consumers were optimistic about their current financial prospects.

The Present Situation Index improved to 98.5 from 85.8 last month.

The percent of consumers that said business conditions are “good,” increased to 18.3 percent month-over-month from 16 percent.

Those who said conditions were “bad” decreased to 37.4 percent compared with 43.3 percent in August.

Consumer outlook also improved in regard to the labor market with 22.9 percent of consumers saying jobs are “plentiful” compared with 21.4 percent last month.

The percentage of those who said jobs are “hard to get” decreased to 20 percent from 23.6 percent.

“Consumers also expressed greater optimism about their short-term financial prospects, which may help keep spending from slowing further in the months ahead,” said Franco.

The Expectations Index, which measures consumers’ short-term outlook for income, business, and labor market conditions, rose to 104 percent from 86.6 in August.

The 17-point gain took the Expectations Index to a three-month high.

The percentage of consumers expecting business conditions to improve over the next six months increased to 37.1 percent from 29.8 percent.

Fewer consumers are expecting business conditions to worsen—15.8 percent compared with 20.7 percent last month.

Consumers also took a more optimistic view on the labor market.

More consumers expect to see more jobs in the months ahead, with that percentage rising to 33.1 from 29.9 percent last month.

The percentage of consumers expecting to see fewer jobs also decreased to 15.6 percent, compared with 21.2 percent in the previous month.

Looking at short-term income, the percentage of consumers expecting an increase improved to 17.5 percent from 13 percent in August.

The percentage of consumers expecting a decrease was down to 12.6 percent, compared with 16 percent in the previous month.

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