Consumer optimism mainly among the wealthiest

Consumers are feeling a bit better about their financial prospects, but most of that optimism is coming from the top of the income scale.

The University of Michigan reported Friday that consumer sentiment climbed slightly in August, as Americans felt better about their job situations, wages, and wealth. In fact, consumers reported feeling better about their financial state in August than at any point since the recession began.

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While the school’s sentiment index climbed to 82.5, from 81.8 a month ago, much of those gains were among the nation’s wealthiest, in another indication that the economic recovery is not being felt as strongly across all income groups.

Fifty-nine percent of those making the top third of incomes reported in August they were better off, compared to 36 percent of those in the bottom two-thirds. Net gains in income were reported by 34 percent of the top third, while the bottom two-thirds reported no net gains in income.

And most of the wealth gains reported by consumers came from rising stock prices and wages.

But across all income groups, there is a growing pessimism about their economic future. Just 39 percent of the top third expect to improve financially in the future, compared to 27 percent among the rest.

The economic pessimism lingers despite relatively positive news on the economy overall. On Thursday, the Commerce Department reported that the economy grew 4.2 percent in the second quarter of the year, an upgrade from an earlier estimate and better than expected.