By MARTIN CRUTSINGER
AP Economics Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — American consumers slowed their spending to a gain of just 0.6% in September, a cautionary sign for an economy that remains in the grip of a pandemic and a prolonged bout of high inflation. At the same time, a key inflation barometer that is closely followed by the Federal Reserve surged 4.4% last month from a year earlier — the fastest such increase in three decades. Sharply rising prices, in part a result of supply shortages, have imposed a growing burden on American households. For months, annual inflation has remained far above the modest annual rates of 2% or less that prevailed before the pandemic recession.