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Consumer sentiment boosted by jobs optimism in Feb

A shopper walks down an aisle in a newly opened Walmart Neighborhood Market in Chicago in this September 21, 2011 file photo. REUTERS/Jim Yo
A shopper walks down an aisle in a newly opened Walmart Neighborhood Market in Chicago in this September 21, 2011 file photo. REUTERS/Jim Yo

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Consumer sentiment rose in February as Americans were more optimistic that the jobs market will improve, even as confidence in fiscal policy was near all-time lows, a survey released on Friday showed.

The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan's final reading on the overall index on consumer sentiment rose to 77.6 from 73.8 in January, topping expectations for attitudes to hold steady with February's preliminary reading of 76.3.

Fewer Americans expected unemployment to rise, with survey respondents feeling slightly better about prospects for the economy. At the same time, 43 percent considered government economic policies to be poor and just 15 percent said the administration was doing a good job.

"Consumers find the blame-game for policy inaction a very unsatisfactory substitute for a concerted effort to improve the economy," survey director Richard Curtin said in a statement.

Government spending cuts of $85 billion are set to start coming into force by the end of the day unless a last minute deal is reached in Washington, though few expect there will be one.

The barometer of current economic conditions rose to 89 from 85, while the gauge of consumer expectations gained to 70.2 from 66.6. All three consumer indexes were at their highest levels since November.

Worries about income growth and their weakened financial situations have made consumers more sensitive to inflation concerns. One-in-five respondents cited rising prices when asked about how their finances had recently changed.

The survey's one-year inflation expectation was unchanged at 3.3 percent, while the survey's five-to-10-year inflation outlook edged up to 3 percent from 2.9 percent.

(Reporting by Leah Schnurr; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

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