WASHINGTON – The U.S. economy is improving faster than economists had expected. They now foresee slightly stronger growth and hiring than they did two months earlier – trends that would help President Barack Obama’s re-election hopes.
Those are among the findings of an Associated Press survey late last month of leading economists. The economists think the unemployment rate will fall from its current 8.3 percent to 8 percent by Election Day. That’s better than their 8.4 percent estimate when surveyed in late December.
By the end of 2013, they predict unemployment will drop to 7.4 percent, down from their earlier estimate of 7.8 percent.
The U.S. economy has been improving steadily for months. Industrial output jumped in January after surging in December by the most in five years. Auto sales are booming. Consumer confidence has reached its highest point in a year. Even the housing market is showing signs of turning around.
“The economy is finally starting to gain some steam, with consumers and businesses more optimistic about prospects in 2012,” said Chad Moutray, chief economist at the National Association of Manufacturers.
On Friday, the government will issue the jobs report for February. Economists expect it to show that employers added a net 210,000 jobs and that the unemployment rate remained 8.3 percent.
The AP survey collected the views of two dozen private, corporate and academic economists on a range of indicators.