By the numbers: US economic recovery finally taking hold

Don't look now, but the U.S. economy is back.

After a long, dismal winter that saw gross domestic product shift abruptly into reverse, the latest government data released Thursday shows the economy bounced back sharply in the spring.

The Commerce Department said Thursday that GDP expanded at a 4.2 percent annual rate in the second quarter instead of the previously reported 4 percent pace. It was the fastest pace since the third quarter of 2013.

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But the improvement is more than a one-time rebound. Across a broad range of data, the economy continues gradually to gain strength.

To be sure, it's been a long slog back from the Great Recession, and the recovery isn't about to break any historical records.

Millions of "discouraged" workers have given up looking for a job, and wage gains have been sluggish for those who have one. Though housing starts and home sales are gradually improving, they're well off peak levels seen before the mortgage bubble burst in 2007.

But there are signs that the deep slide has finally given way to what economists call a "virtuous cycle"—where improvement in one part of the economy feeds into the others, creating a self-sustaining expansion.

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This year's convincing job gains are boosting consumer confidence and—more importantly—helping to shore up household finances. Americans continue to pay down debt, which together with low interest rates has helped reduce the cost of paying off mortgages, car loans and other forms of borrowing. Lower borrowing costs have helped boost savings.

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That's also helped free up money for spending, giving a lift to retail sales and helping to support an ongoing, if sluggish, housing recovery.

Few economists are forecasting another economic boom ahead: Most expect the slow, steady expansion to continue. Much, of course, depends on whether the Federal Reserve decides to begin raising interest rates back to more "normal" levels, and how quickly those rates begin to rise.

But for now, it looks like much of the U.S. economic recovery is solidly on track.

By CNBC's John Schoen