Economists predict fourth-quarter growth in gross domestic product could reach an annual rate of 3%, according to a survey by Econoday. Moody's Analytics forecasts 3.8%.
Coming after 4.1% third-quarter growth, that would mean the best stretch since the last quarter of 2011 and the first three months of 2012. That six-month performance quickly led to a mid-2012 stall — which economists say could, but shouldn't, happen again.
"The economy is in a much better place today,'' Moody's Analytics chief economist Mark Zandi said. "Most importantly, the collective psyche is much stronger today than at any time since before the Great Recession."
The biggest differences this time include the much better financial condition of state and local governments, which cut 286,000 workers in 2011 and have added 42,000 since June, Mesirow Financial chief economist Diane Swonk said.
The housing market is also in much better shape, sparking prospects for "10% to 15% construction growth as far as the eye can see," Action Economics chief economist Mike Englund said.
Many economists say the mid-2011 budget deal that prescribed more than $2 trillion in budget cuts over 10 years took a short-term toll on growth. The fiscal deal that Congress approved in December delays some cuts, letting the economy grow faster now, Englund said.
The caveat: The cold winter will produce slower first-quarter growth, Swonk said. And with many Millennials still declining to move out of their parents' houses, partly because of shaky job prospects, the home building push that a stronger expansion requires may take longer than expected, she said.