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For now, the economy appears to be sputtering. It expanded 1.9 percent in the first quarter, down from 3 percent in the October-December quarter. Growth isn’t expected to improve much in the current April-June quarter.

Consumers remain cautious. Retail sales fell 0.2 percent in May, the Commerce Department said Wednesday, matching April’s decline. It was the first back-to-back drop in two years.

A big reason for the decline was falling prices at the gas pump, which reduced gas station sales. The average price for a gallon of gas was $3.54 Wednesday, according to AAA. That’s 40 cents cheaper than the peak in early April.

That drop should free up more cash for consumers to spend in the coming months, which could accelerate spending this summer, economists said.

The economy is still struggling three years after the recession officially ended in June 2009. Wages haven’t kept up with inflation. State and local governments have continued to shed jobs.

The United States has regained less than 3.8 million, or 43 percent, of the 8.8 million jobs lost during and immediately after the recession.