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Economists in poll foresee weak growth

CHICAGO — Economists foresee only tepid growth for the coming year, with unemployment back above 8 percent for the first half of 2013.

The good news: The housing market is recovering faster than expected and the economy probably won’t fall off a ‘‘fiscal cliff.’’

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The quarterly survey by the National Association for Business Economists released Monday predicts growth will be weak overall but should slowly accelerate through 2013.

The 44 economists surveyed now see gross domestic product — the value of all goods and services produced in the United States — rising just 1.9 percent in 2012 before reaching a 3 percent pace by the fourth quarter of next year.

Employment growth is forecast to weaken. The panel predicts that the unemployment rate will rise to 8.1 percent by the end of the year. The economy should add an average of 125,000 jobs per month during the fourth quarter, down from the economists’ May forecast of 190,000 jobs.

The unemployment rate, the most-watched measure of the country’s economic health, has been a prime issue in the presidential election. It fell to 7.8 percent in September. But before that the rate was 8 percent or higher for 43 months, a streak that Republican challenger Mitt Romney had been emphasizing in his effort to unseat President Obama.

The survey results hint at the possibility the rate could rise back to the 8 percent level when the October jobs report comes out Nov. 2, four days before the election.

The organization is made up of business economists and others who use economics in the workplace.

The economists, who were surveyed Sept. 14-26, revised upward their previous estimate for single-family housing starts and now expect them to increase 23 percent to 750,000 units in 2012. Continued improvement is seen in 2013 with a 13 percent rise to 850,000 units.

Home prices are now projected to rise by 1.5 percent in 2012 and 2.8 percent in 2013, more than the economists expected in their May forecast.

A widespread concern about the economy has been the combination of about $1.2 trillion in spending cuts and tax increases that will kick in starting next year, risking a giant fiscal shock if Republicans and Democrats don’t reach a deal on a budget. But a majority of the economists are confident that won’t occur.

Fifty-five percent of the economists surveyed said they think the so-called Bush tax cuts will be held in place for another year for all income levels, while another 36 percent believe they will be extended only for lower income brackets.

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