U.S. consumer sentiment was little changed in early January, as worries over income and high unemployment offset news of an improving economy, a survey released on Friday showed.

The Reuters/University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers said its preliminary index of sentiment for January was 72.8, up from 72.5 late December and 61.2 a year ago.

The reading is the highest since September 2009, but it fell short of analysts' median expectation of a reading of 73.9, according to a recent Reuters poll.

The survey's gauge of current economic conditions was 81.0 in early January, the highest since March 2008. It was up from 78.0 in December and the 78.5 predicted by analysts polled by Reuters.

But the survey's barometer of consumer expectations dipped to 67.5 from 68.9 in December. It fell short of the 70.3 forecast by analysts.

While consumers anticipated continuing gains in the overall economy, few consumers expected an immediate shift toward the type of positive developments that would improve their job and income prospects, Richard Curtin, director of the surveys, said in a statement.

The index on consumers' 12-month economic outlook rose to 82, the highest since September 2009, from 79 in December.

An improving economic outlook also increased expectations of rising prices.

The survey's 1-year inflation expectations rose to 2.8 percent in early January from 2.5 in December. Expectations for five-to-10-year inflation edged up to 2.8 percent from 2.7 last month.

(Reporting by Richard Leong, Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)