In this July 17, 2014 photo, construction workers build a commercial complex in Springfield, Ill.
In this July 17, 2014 photo, construction workers build a commercial complex in Springfield, Ill.

WASHINGTON - U.S. apartment construction is surging, inflation is edging upward, but consumers are a growing a little less confident, according to a series of economic reports published on Friday.

Analysts say June's  9.8 percent surge in housing starts, particularly apartments, is due to falling unemployment and strong job gains. The number of permits to begin future construction also rose, perhaps evidence the trend will continue for a while.

Data show that if builders broke ground at June's pace for a full year, nearly 1.2 million new homes and apartments would go up.  Economists at Wells Fargo Bank say it is the strongest surge of "multifamily" building in a decade.

A separate report says inflation was pushed upward in June by increases in gasoline prices.  The Consumer Price Index showed a three-tenths of a percent rise for the month.

Outside the volatile areas of food and energy, prices in the overall economy rose 1.8 percent in the past 12 months. PNC Bank Chief Economist Stu Hoffman says inflation appears to be "stabilizing" after plunging oil prices pushed prices downward in 2014 and earlier this year.

The U.S. central bank is watching inflation and the job market closely as officials consider when and how fast to raise the key interest rate.

Experts at the Federal Reserve say an inflation rate of two percent would help economic growth, so movement toward that could make it more likely that rates will go up later this year.  

A separate study by the University of Michigan shows that consumers were a little less optimistic in early June, perhaps because of a slight rebound in gasoline prices.

Economists say worried consumers are less likely to buy things, so watching "consumer sentiment" gives clues about future consumer spending. That is important because consumer demand drives most U.S. economic activity.