Go Consumer! The Mixed Picture for Retail Spending

The National Retail Federation predicts people will spend $688.62 in back-to-school shopping for the K-12 set, up from $603.63 last year. Photograph by David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Nobody breaks a pundit’s heart like the U.S. consumer. Since late 2008, these fickle folks have kept economists guessing. One minute, they’re confident. The next, they’re not. Even now, with the U.S. unemployment rate rising to 8.3 percent and Europe edging into recession, Americans are spending again. Sales rose 0.8 percent last month, according to the Commerce Department, which prompted relief after months of decline.

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