Led by a drop in the number of unemployment claims, an index tracking San Diego’s economy increased 0.3 percent in March.

It was the seventh straight increase for the USD Burnham-Moores Center for Real Estate’s Index of Leading Economic Indicators for the county. In addition to the improved jobs data, the index showed smaller gains in the number of increased building permits, local stock prices, and help wanted advertising.

Two measures showed decreases: consumer confidence and the outlook for the national economy. The former measure declined for the third straight month causing concern since consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of the economy, said Alan Gin, the USD economist who compiles the index.

Gin said with the latest rise in the index, the outlook for the rest of this year is for “good growth.”

The local jobs picture was cited as particularly improved. In March, the county’s unemployment rate dropped to 7.7 percent, down from 8 percent in February and 9.3 percent in March 2012. It was the first time the jobless rate fell below 8 percent since December 2008.

— SDBJ Staff Report