The bears might not be going into hibernation, but the bulls appear to be coming out of hiding. More economists are predicting stronger growth for next year, and the data appears back up this view. It was noted here that October went particularly well for the U.S. economy, and there may be more good news coming.

Economists have recently become more optimistic, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal. Phil Izzo writes about the paper's latest forecasting survey:

The economists now see stronger expansion in the first half of 2011, with growth picking up speed as the year progresses. For the year, they expect GDP will rise 3%. Meanwhile, they have reduced the odds of a double-dip recession to 15%, the lowest average forecast of the year, from 22% in September survey.

And why are they becoming more cheerful about the economic prospects of the U.S.? A separate analysis from the Associated Press might shed some light on one reason for their view. It says that economic stress has fallen to an 18-month low. Stress declined in 56% of the counties analyzed by AP and 28 states.

The big problem in the economy remains foreclosures. But AP says that other positive aspects of business are overshadowing the poor real estate market, such as job gains and more U.S. exports. In some places, especially Florida, economic prospects are slower to improve, however.

The big question here is whether foreclosures will manage to drag down the broader recovery. The AP analysis appears to imply that they won't prevent the economy from improving, and economists appear to agree, at least implicitly. Considering that the real estate collapse was far more severe in certain areas might also suggest that its ongoing pain will be limited, and won't reinfect the entire nation.

Unfortunately, even the more optimistic tone of economists in the WSJ survey doesn't provide much better prospects for the unemployed. They still see firms as being slow to hire throughout 2011, with unemployment still at 9% by year's end.

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