Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- 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. But 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 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.

But 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 convince 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.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.