A key measure of consumer confidence rose higher than expected in September, despite higher fuel prices and a struggling stock market.


consumer confidence index

, a measure of the average American's comfort with the current economic situation, rose slightly to 141.9, up from 141.1 in September, the

Conference Board

, a private research group, reported Tuesday. The figure stands at near historic highs.

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A group of economists polled by


expected the index to rise more modestly, to 141.4.

The data are based on a representative sample of 5,000 U.S. households and measured relative to a reading of 100 in 1985.

The percentage of consumers who rated current business conditions as "good" rose to 48.9% from 46.2% in August. Consumers rating conditions as "bad" also rose, from 8.6% to 8.8%. Those claiming jobs were "hard to get" dropped to 10.7% from 11.5% last month.

Consumers are also more optimistic about the short-term outlook. The percentage of consumers expecting an improvement in business conditions over the next six months increased to 18.4%, up from 17.2% in August. The proportion anticipating conditions to worsen, however, rose moderately from 5.4% to 5.6%.

The employment component of the index suggested a tightening of the labor market from the previous month. Consumers expecting more jobs to become available in the coming months rose to 17.9% from 17.1% in August.