Washington August began with rising fears that another recession was about to hit. That was then.
A month later, the economy and the stock market appear more resilient, suggesting that consumers, businesses and investors remain confident enough to keep spending.
A more authoritative test will come today, when the government issues the August jobs report. Employers are expected to have added 93,000 jobs, which would not be enough to significantly lower the jobless rate of 9.1 percent.
But it would solidify evidence that the economy, though still weak, is growing steadily. Many analysts now expect it to strengthen in the months ahead.
A stream of data released Thursday bolstered the case for an economy that’s healthier than it seemed just weeks ago:
l Americans kept shopping in August despite higher prices and a hurricane that battered the East Coast during the important back-to-school shopping season.
l Car buyers lifted U.S. sales last month for most automakers. Analysts had expected a weaker August because of anxiety about the economy and Hurricane Irene, which forced many dealers to close during the month’s final weekend.
l Fewer people applied for unemployment benefits last week, a sign that the job market may be improving slightly.
l Manufacturing managed to expand in August for the 25th straight month. Last month’s growth, though modest, defied fears that manufacturing, one of the economy’s few sources of strength, had contracted last month.
All that delivered a sense of relief that the economy is still expanding — even if it’s not enough to reduce unemployment, raise wages and drive the housing market out of its depression.
“Today’s releases add to the evidence that underlying economic conditions aren’t half as bad as feared a few weeks ago,” said Paul Ashworth, an economist at Capital Economics.