U.S. consumer confidence fell in March to its lowest level in a year, as high unemployment and the ways in which the government is using taxpayer money draw mounting apprehension in households, a research group said on Tuesday.

Investor's Business Daily and TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence said their IBD/TIPP Economic Optimism Index slipped to 45.4 in March from February's reading of 46.8.

It was the lowest level the gauge has hit since March 2009. Readings above 50 indicate optimism, while those below 50 point to pessimism.

Confidence has been hurt by continued job declines and concerns about the economy's lack of vigor, said Terry Jones, associate editor of Investor's Business Daily.

Despite the spending of trillions of dollars of taxpayer money on stimulus and 'too-big-to-fail' bailouts, the economy doesn't appear to have entered into anything resembling a self-sustaining expansion, Jones said, adding that persistent attempts to pass a wildly unpopular health care bill has added to Americans' apprehensions.

Those surveyed still remain uncertain about their household finances in the near term. The gauge's personal financial outlook measure dropped 5.2 percent to 50.7 for March.

But while the index's six-month economic outlook component fell 4.7 percent to 46.4, it still lies 14.3 points higher than it was in December 2007.

The IBD/TIPP surveys more than 900 adults generally in the first week of the month. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points.

(Reporting by Camille Drummond, Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)