A monthly report says consumers' confidence in the economy rose in May for the third straight month in a row as Americans' hopes for job growth improved.
The Conference Board, based in New York, says its Consumer Confidence Index rose to 63.3, up from a revised 57.7 reading in April.
Economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters had expected 59.
The increase was boosted by consumers' outlook for the next six months. That part of the index soared to 85.3 from 77.4, the highest since August 2007 before the economy went into recession.
Economists watch the number closely because consumer spending, including health care and other major items, accounts for about 70 percent of U.S. economic activity.
The survey is based on responses by 5,000 U.S. households.
Although still weak by historical levels, consumer confidence appears to be gaining traction, said Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board Consumer Research Center.
"Consumers' apprehension about current business conditions and the job market continues to slowly dissipate. Consumers' expectations, on the other hand, have increased sharply over the past three months," she said.
The percentage of consumers who expect business conditions to improve over the next six months rose to 23.5 percent (from 19.7 percent in April); those who expect conditions to worsen fell to 11.5 percent (from 12.4 percent).
Consumers who said current-day conditions are "good" increased to 10.0 percent from 8.9 percent, while those saying business conditions are "bad" declined to 39.3 percent from 40.0 percent.
Consumers' appraisal of the labor market was also more positive. Respondents claiming jobs are "hard to get" fell to 43.6 percent (from 44.8 percent). Consumers who said jobs are "plentiful" remained unchanged, at 4.6 percent.
Consumers were also more optimistic about future job prospects, with those anticipating more jobs in the months ahead rising from 17.7 percent to 20.4 percent. Those who anticipate fewer jobs declined to 17.7 percent from 19.9 percent.
Consumer expectation about income expectations, however, remain "downbeat," Franco said. The number of consumers who anticipated an increase in their incomes rose only slightly, from 10.5 percent to 11.3 percent.