Retail sales were flat in July

Retail sales stagnated in July as consumers’ concerns remain heightened about the direction of the economy.

Sales were essentially unchanged last month, after a 0.2 percent increase in June, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. 

The spending figures reflect a slow start to the third quarter after the economy grew at a 4 percent annual pace in the April-June period. 

In the past year, sales are up 3.7 percent — but without an increase in wages to go along with job growth, consumers are likely to hold back their spending. 

Employers have added more than 200,000 jobs in the past few months but wage growth is still lagging behind, leaving consumers hesitant to increase their spending after repeated false economic starts over the past few years.

The report is closely watched because consumer spending is an important component of economic activity, accounting for 70 percent of the economy. 

Amid the growth in the second quarter, consumer spending increased 2.5 percent. 

Auto sales slowed 0.2 percent last month but are up 6 percent from July 2013. 

Department store spending also slowed last month but was up at grocery stores, restaurants and gas stations.