Like a surging river pushing against an ice dam, it seems the economy is showing signs of finally breaking out and emerging into the sunshine after our long winter.
Consumer confidence surged this month to its highest level in more than six years, according to the Conference Board’s index.
The index, one of two key monthly measures of consumer attitudes, rose from 78.3 in February to 82.3 in March.
“An improvement in weather may be lifting consumers’ spirits,” economist Lindsey Piegza at brokerage Sterne Agee told the Los Angeles Times.
Well, we’re not going to argue with that.
But there is a larger issue at hand here. The index leaped to its best showing since January 2008, which were early days in the ongoing Great Recession that long ago wore out its welcome.
The economy of the United States, and that of West Virginia, too, is driven in large part by consumer spending. Despite the persistently high jobless numbers here and elsewhere across the nation, consumer confidence can be a real force to break the pattern of a slow economic recovery.
The Bureau of Business and Economic Research at West Virginia University, in its economic outlook for the state for 2014, predicts that retailers here in West Virginia would add jobs over the year, even at a slowly improving rate of 0.5 percent.
We’d be happy to see retailers hiring even more workers to deal with higher consumer spending in West Virginia.
Over the next five years, the BBER’s economists see per-capita annual income growth of between 2.5 percent and 3 percent for Raleigh, Fayette, Greenbrier, Nicholas, Summers and Monroe counties.
For Wyoming County, the growth rate is predicted to be between 2 percent and 2.5 percent.
Granted, West Virginia lags behind in per-capita income nationally, but the state has been closing that gap with the rest of the country in recent years. Per capita personal income in West Virginia reached $34,477 in 2012, a 3.2 percent increase over the previous year.
That outpaced the national average of 2.5 percent.
So what do all these numbers mean? Well, coupled with the unexpectedly sharp rise in consumer confidence, we think they show that there is real momentum for the economy in southern West Virginia to improve this year.
And that will be as welcome as the first flowers of spring.