- - Tuesday, December 31, 2013

If you struggled through the sluggish, job-challenged, stomach-churning Obama economy in the past five years, 2014 may not be a great deal better.

The conventional wisdom among forecasters is that the painfully slow, five-year recovery is picking up steam and will turn in a stronger performance in the new year. However, don’t bet on it just yet. I’ll believe it when I see it.

As Barack Obama enters the sixth year of his problem-plagued presidency, his job-approval polls have fallen into the low 40s — briefly dropping to 39 percent last week in Gallup’s daily tracking surveys.

His list of looming troubles include a widely predicted shellacking for his party in the midterm elections; further disasters to come in his health care program that will place additional burdens on our economy; and the continuing paralysis of his domestic agenda in Congress.

Here are my forecasts for the coming year.

Don’t look for a sustainable surge in economic growth. The surprising 4.1 percent GDP rate in the third quarter was not all it was cracked up to be. A big boost in business inventories on the shelf accounted for a little less than half of it (1.7 percentage points).

“Much of the increase in inventories was in food and energy raw materials plus motor vehicles. This won’t occur at the same rate going forward,” Kiplinger says in its latest Economic Outlook.

Economists were expecting the fourth-quarter economic-growth rate to reach a mere 2.0 percent, but if job creation rises sharply in 2014, it could hit a modest 3 percent over the course of the next 12 months, some say.

However, that’s a big if, cautions economic analyst Robert J. Samuelson.

“Though jobs are up, they remain about 1.3 million below the record. Millions of would-be workers (almost 5.7 million, estimates the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank) have left the labor force,” he says. “Americans have been sobered. The resulting wariness may be self-fulfilling.”

Four million Americans have been unemployed for 27 weeks or longer, the worst jobless rate in many decades.

Kiplinger’s economic forecasters are equally cautious on jobs, too:

“The bottom line … is that progress in rebuilding labor markets remains grindingly slow. There are still about 2 million fewer jobs now than when the recession began in December 2007 and there’s no hiring boom in sight.”

On the political front — despite the Washington news media’s efforts to persuade us that Republicans will soon cease to exist as a viable party — the GOP is closer than ever to taking full control of Congress in November.

Republicans will hold their 17-seat majority in the House. Who says so? The Washington Post’s ace political analyst Chris Cillizza:

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