Unemployment will barely fall from the current 8.6 percent rate, though, by the time President Obama runs for re-election in November, the economists say.
The three dozen economists expect the economy to grow 2.4 percent next year.
The economy has generated at least 100,000 new jobs for five months in a row – the longest such streak since 2006. The number of people applying for unemployment has dropped to the lowest level since April 2008. The trend suggests that layoffs have all but stopped and hiring could pick up.
The economists surveyed Dec. 14-20 expect the country to create 177,000 jobs a month through Election Day. That would be up from an average 132,000 jobs a month so far in 2011.
Dean Maki, the chief U.S. economist at Barclays Capital, says the economy remains vulnerable to an outside shock. A big threat is the risk that Europe’s debt crisis will trigger a worldwide credit freeze.
Even without an outside jolt, the economists expect barely enough job creation in 2012 to stay ahead of population growth and the return of discouraged workers into the labor force.
If Europe can stabilize its economies, the U.S. stock markets would rally, economists say, and prospects for U.S. economic growth would brighten.
“Europe appears to be the only real impediment to keeping this recovery from happening,” said Joel Naroff, the president of Naroff Economics.