Washington (CNN) – President Barack Obama welcomed the new economic growth figures issued Friday, saying "our economy as a whole is in a much better place than one year ago."
The U.S. economy grew at an annual rate of 3.2 percent in the first quarter of 2010, according to the Commerce Department. It was the third straight quarter of growth.
"The economy that shrank for four quarters in a row has grown for three quarters in a row," Obama said at the White House. "The economy that was losing jobs a year ago is creating jobs today."
The rate of expansion was down from the 5.6 percent growth rate in the fourth quarter of 2009, and slightly below economists' forecasts for a 3.3 percent increase. The fact that the economy has now expanded for three consecutive quarters, however, confirmed the view of many economists that the recession that started in December 2007 ended at some point in the middle of last year.
By some measures, the latest report shows more substantial growth than the fourth quarter. In the fourth quarter, most of the growth was due to businesses no longer making the deep cuts in inventories that they had made early in 2009, when they were concerned about a sharp fall-off in demand. But the rise in consumer spending was fairly modest in the fourth quarter, increasing at only a 1.6 percent annual rate.
This time inventories made only a modest contribution to growth, but spending by households grew at a 3.6 percent annual rate, and accounted for the overwhelming bulk of the improvement in the economy.
– CNN's Chris Isidore and Alan Silverleib contributed to this report