Richard Drew, Associated Press
In this Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014 photo, a woman passes an active wear display at a J.C. Penney store, in New York. The Commerce Department releases retail sales data for August on Friday, Sept. 12, 2014.

WASHINGTON — Auto buying drove U.S. retail sales higher in August, a possible sign that steady job growth in recent months is leading to accelerated consumer spending.

The Commerce Department says seasonally adjusted retail sales rose 0.6 percent compared with the prior month. Sales are up 5 percent in the past 12 months. July sales were also revised upward from flat to a 0.3 percent increase.

Motor vehicles accounted for roughly half of the August increase. Buying also picked up at restaurants and for furniture, electronics, sporting goods and building materials.

Those gains were partially offset by falling sales at gasoline stations and department stores.

The figures suggest that Americans' reluctance to spend has faded somewhat. This could boost overall growth because consumer spending accounts for 70 percent of the economic activity.