03/13/2012 08:42 EDT | Updated 05/13/2012 05:12 EDT

US retail sales rose 1.1 per cent in February, as strengthening job market lifts economy

WASHINGTON - Americans stepped up spending on retail goods in February, evidence that a stronger job market is boosting the economy.

Consumers bought more autos, clothes and appliances. They also paid higher prices for gas.

The Commerce Department says retail sales increased 1.1 per cent last month, the biggest gain since September. Auto sales were strong and department stores had their biggest gain in more than a year.

Even without a 3.3 per cent rise in gasoline sales, retail sales would have increased a solid 0.8 per cent.

The gain pushed retail sales to a record $407.8 billion. That's 20.1 per cent higher than the recession low hit in March 2009.