WASHINGTON — The economy grew slightly faster last summer as Americans spent a little more freely. Yet it remains too weak to reduce high unemployment just as Democrats face deep losses in Tuesday’s elections.
The Commerce Department said Friday that the economy expanded at a 2 percent annual rate in the July-September quarter. It marked an improvement from the feeble 1.7 percent growth in the April-June quarter.
Consumers helped boost last quarter’s economic growth with 2.6 percent growth in spending. That was better than the second quarter’s 2.2 percent growth rate and marked the biggest quarterly increase since a 4.1 percent gain at the end of 2006 before the recession hit.
A stock-market rebound made people feel better about spending. Bargains, on everything from cars to home furnishings, also drew them out. Consumer spending accounts for roughly 70 percent of national economic activity, and thus plays a major role in determining the vigor of the economic rebound.
But to have any impact on the 9.6 percent unemployment rate, consumers need to spend even more and the economy would need to rack up growth of 5 percent for a full year.