Alan Diaz, Associated Press
In this Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016, photo, shoppers are shown in Miami. On Friday, Feb. 12, 2016, the Commerce Department releases retail sales data for January.

WASHINGTON — U.S. retail sales rose modestly in January, evidence that Americans kept shopping despite sharp drops in stock prices.

The Commerce Department said Friday that retail sales increased a seasonally adjusted 0.2 percent last month, the same as in December. Excluding the effect of falling gas prices, sales rose 0.4 percent.

Steady hiring and early signs that employers are finally handing out higher wages means that Americans have more money to spend. A key question for the economy this year is whether consumer spending can and offset the impacts of stock market volatility and slowing growth overseas.

Americans stepped up their purchases of autos, home supplies and groceries, and spent more online. They spent less at restaurants and bars, likely in part because of harsh snowstorms on the East Coast.