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Feb. 26, 2021, 10:25 a.m. EST

Consumer sentiment improves slightly in late February, but Americans still have big doubts about the economy

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Jeffry Bartash

The numbers: Americans are still unsure how rapidly the U.S. economy will recover from the pandemic and restore millions of jobs that have been lost even as the rate of vaccinations speeds up, a new survey showed.

The final reading of consumer sentiment in February inched up to 76.8 points from 76.2 earlier in the month, according to a survey produced by the University of Michigan. That matched the forecast of economists polled by Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal.

The overall consumer sentiment index is still 25 points below its precrisis peak, however.

MarketWatch special : The coronavirus pandemic has remade our working lives, and it’s been anything but fair.

What happened: The attitude of Americans right now about their own personal finances and the broader economy is still quite shaky.

The so-called index of current conditions was unchanged at 86.2 vs. the preliminary February reading and down slightly from January

Hopes for a stronger economy later in the year were also muted.

A forward-looking gauge on what consumers expect six months from now edged up to 70.7 from 69.8 earlier in the month, but it was still below January’s mark of 74. That’s the weakest reading in three months.

The biggest decline in optimism occurred among households with incomes below $75,000 a year. They are facing more financial stress during the pandemic than upper-income Americans who are more likely to work in jobs that can be performed remotely.

Read: Are 20 million Americans really getting unemployment benefits? Don’t take it at face value

Big picture: The economy got a shot in the arm in February, literally, from a rising number of people getting coronavirus vaccinations. Even more helpful were expanded unemployment benefits and another round of stimulus checks for most families totaling up to $600.

The increasing pace of vaccinations and another nearly $2 trillion in federal stimulus that’s set to be approved in Washington in the next month will keep the momentum going and should give Americans more reason for optimism in the coming months.

Market reaction: The Dow Jones Industrial Average /zigman2/quotes/210598065/realtime DJIA +0.94% fell more than 150 points and the S&P 500 /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX +0.93% also declined in Friday trades.

US : Dow Jones Global
+317.39 +0.94%
Volume: 280.38M
April 21, 2021 4:03p
+38.53 +0.93%
Volume: 2.01B
April 21, 2021 4:03p

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