A brighter outlook for overall business conditions and hiring bolstered consumer confidence to the highest mark since February, according to The Conference Board.

The Consumer Confidence Index rose to 70.3, up from 61.3 in August, which was revised higher. It's the highest reading since February, when employers added 259,000 jobs and many thought the recovery was strengthening.

The survey is watched closely because consumer spending drives nearly 70 percent of economic activity. The reading is still below 90, a level that indicates a healthy economy. The index hasn't been that high since December 2007.

The survey showed consumers were more optimistic about the current availability of jobs and their outlook over the next six months. Their confidence in the job market is higher, even though employers added just 96,000 jobs in August, too few to keep up with population growth.

Consumers' expectations for future growth over the next six months also surged.

"This has recouped the ground we lost. Consumers see the economy moving ahead," says Lynn Franco, director of economic indicators at The Conference Board. But she cautioned that the index is volatile.

Indeed, consumer confidence has fluctuated sharply this year. It has fallen five times in the past nine months, hitting a low for the year in August.  

Some economists question whether the higher level of confidence is sustainable. They've seen the index spike briefly since the Great Recession ended. Some say confidence could be affected by negative campaign ads that focus on the economy.

The Conference Board consumer confidence survey was conducted from Sept. 1 through Sept. 13. The survey polled 500 people. For the first time since February, both the index that measures how consumers feel now about the economy and their outlook for the next six month rose. Consumers were considerably more optimistic about the short-term outlook for business conditions, employment and their financial situation.

Those expecting business conditions to improve over the next six months increased to 18.2 percent from 16.7 percent. Those anticipating business conditions to worsen decreased to 13.8 percent from 17.6 percent. Consumers expecting more jobs in the months ahead increased to 18.5 percent from 15.8 percent. Those anticipating fewer jobs declined to 18.5 percent from 23.7 percent.

Subscribe Now

Authoritative analysis and perspective for every segment of the payments industry

14-Day Free Trial

Authoritative analysis and perspective for every segment of the industry