Consumer confidence shows up in many places – spending, hiring and business expansions, to name a few. And across the nation, that confidence has soared to a five-year high, the Conference Board announced Tuesday.

In the Buffalo Niagara region, consumer confidence lags behind the national numbers, but there are signs things are improving.

Unemployment in the region hit a two-year low of 7.7 percent in April, and hiring is up, according to a local staffing agency.

“We’re definitely seeing more competition for qualified candidates,” said Lynne Marie Finn, president and CEO of Superior Workforce Solutions, a staffing agency based in Williamsville with 40 offices around the country.

Finn said employers have been offering salaries at or above applicants’ stated salary requirements. In the recent past, job offers would regularly come in with a salary below what the applicant said they wanted to be paid.

That is especially the case in engineering, information technology, medical and accounting positions, Finn said.

Some small-business owners also are showing more confidence.

After eight years selling custom wedding and birthday cakes out of a commercial kitchen in her basement, Andrea Amodeo took the plunge last month and opened a brick-and-mortar retail store for her company, Blackbird Sweets, on Buffalo’s West Side.

Her husband, Eric Amodeo, and her father, Michael Sedia, also expanded into retail last month with their 10-year-old company, the Pasta Peddler.

It’s all part of a growing sense of confidence in the economy that has been gaining momentum this year.

The Conference Board, a New York-based private research group, said Tuesday that its consumer confidence index rose in May to 76.2. That’s up from a reading of 69.0 in April and the highest since February 2008. The increase suggests consumers may keep boosting economic growth this year.

Confidence levels in Buffalo Niagara came in at 69.9 for the first quarter of 2013, according to the Siena Research Institute at Siena College. Though several points lower than the national number, it is still nearly 10 points higher than confidence levels here during the first quarter of 2011 and 38 percent higher than during the depths of the recession.

“It’s better than where we were but not where we want to be,” said Don Levy, director at Siena Research Institute.

The jump in national confidence followed a separate report showing the housing recovery is strengthening.

Home prices jumped 10.9 percent in March compared with a year ago, the most since April 2006, according to the Standard & Poor’s/Case Shiller 20-city index. All 20 cities showed year-over-year gains.

The reports contributed to a strong opening on Wall Street. The Dow Jones industrial average surged more than 200 points in the first hour of trading and closed up 106 points on Tuesday.

Consumers’ confidence in the economy is watched closely because their spending accounts for about 70 percent of U.S. economic activity.

Conference Board economist Lynn Franco said Americans are more optimistic after worrying earlier in the year about higher taxes and federal spending cuts.

Still, higher home prices and stocks gains are making Americans feel wealthier. That could offset some of the pinch from the payroll tax increase and keep consumers spending.

And the job market has improved steadily over the past six months. The economy has added an average of 208,000 jobs a month since November. That’s well above the monthly average of 138,000 during the previous six months.

The unemployment rate has fallen to a four-year low of 7.5 percent. Some of the decrease is because many people have given up looking for work. The government counts people as unemployed only if they are actively searching for a job.

The overall economy grew at an annual rate of 2.5 percent in the January-March quarter, up from a rate of just 0.4 percent in the October-December quarter. The fastest expansion in consumer spending in more than two years drove economic growth in the first quarter.

Many economists expect growth is slowing slightly in the current April-June quarter to a rate between 2 percent and 2.5 percent. But there is hope among some economists that growth will strengthen in the second half of this year, boosted by the gains in housing and employment.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. email: