The Conference Board's survey, which was conducted from Feb. 1 through Feb. 14 on a sample of 2,300 shoppers, shows that Americans are particularly upbeat about their job and income prospects. But that's coming off gloomier numbers over the past three months. The number of people anticipating more jobs rose to 16.7 percent from 14.4 percent, while those expecting their incomes to increase rose to 15.7 percent from 13.5 percent.
"Consumers are feeling better, but they don't feel a whole lot better," says Mark Vitner, an economist at Wells Fargo.
There's no wonder Americans are torn between positivity and angst. There's a mix of good and bad economic news.
Stocks have roughly doubled since June 2009. And the job market, while still tough, also is rebounding: In January, employers added 157,000 jobs. Still, the unemployment rate rose to 7.9 percent from 7.8 percent in December.But whether or not Americans open their wallets and pocketbooks may rely on a few economic wildcards. One of them is gas prices, which started to climb in mid-January. As of Tuesday, they are $3.78 per gallon, 40 cents higher than they were a month ago. If gas prices keep climbing, that could squeeze Americans, particularly those already living paycheck to paycheck. And many economists worry that the budget fights in Washington could really hurt Americans' confidence. They worry that the impasse could persist for much of this year, and drag on economic growth and Americans' willingness to spend. Zamora, the Boston resident, certainly frets about how lawmakers are going to resolve the budget crisis. "Nobody knows what the ripple effect will be," he says. "I don't want to be caught blowing in the wind." ---- AP Economics writer Chris Rugaber contributed to this report.