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Consumer Confidential: More jobs, more cars sold, more thrills at theme parks

April 1, 2011 |  9:52 am

Thrillpic Here's your flash-in-the-pan Friday roundup of consumer news from around the Web:

-- In the surest sign yet that the economy's on the mend, the unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest level in two years -- 8.8%. That's still a scary number, but it's better than the nearly 10% rate we've grown accustomed to and shows a big move in the right direction. The economy gained 216,000 jobs in March. That's a significant improvement over the 194,000 jobs added in February. Private businesses added 230,000 jobs. Since businesses started hiring again a year ago, they have now added 1.8 million jobs, with nearly a third of those jobs added in just the first three months of this year. Very good news indeed.

-- And with more people working, there's more demand for wheels. General Motors says sales rose 9.6% to 206,621 vehicles in March compared with a year earlier. For the first quarter of 2011, GM sales rose 24.1% to 592,545 autos. The automaker's newly designed models, such as the compact Chevrolet Cruze sedan, are leading the sales charge. GM sold 50,200 Cruze cars during the quarter. Compact and subcompact cars -- the most fuel-efficient vehicles -- accounted for nearly 24% of the retail market in March compared with about 20% in February, according to J.D. Power and Associates. Meanwhile, estimates that the average fuel economy of the vehicles sold in March was 22 miles per gallon, compared with 21.2 in March 2010.

-- Another sign that things are perking up: We're out having fun again. Crowds increased at amusement parks around the country in 2010, and industry players are optimistic that this season will be even better. Texas-based Six Flags Entertainment and Ohio-based Cedar Fair Entertainment are the two biggest operators of regional amusement parks. Both reported attendance was up nationwide last year. Other regional parks also saw at least modest gains. Six Flags saw attendance jump 4% last year because of the growth of its Halloween and Christmas events. Cedar Fair hit an all-time high in attendance. I guess the roller-coaster that's characterized the economy and stock market will finally give way to more fun-filled thrills.

-- David Lazarus

Photo: As the economy mends, people are once again looking for fun and many are finding it at amusement parks. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times