WASHINGTON (AP) -- The U.S. economy raced ahead at a 3.1 percent annual rate in the summer, powered by hearty consumer spending, especially on big-ticket items such as cars.
The rebound in third quarter gross domestic product, considered the best barometer of the nation's economic health, came after a mediocre 1.3 percent growth rate posted in the second quarter, the Commerce Department reported Thursday. But economists worry that the growth spurt could be followed by a winter lull.
GDP measures the total value of goods and services produced within the United States.
Even with the bounce back, many economists predict the economy -- pummeled by the rollercoaster stock market, worries about a possible war with Iraq and eroding consumer confidence -- is losing momentum in the current October-December quarter.
Some analysts are forecasting a fourth-quarter economic growth rate of around 2 percent. Others believe it will be a lot weaker at only a 1 percent pace. Still, most don't foresee the economy falling back into recession.
The economy's struggles will likely be weighing on Americans' minds as they head to the polls next week. Democrats and Republicans have sought to blame each other for the economy's troubles in their campaign strategies to win control of Congress in next week's midterm elections.
President Bush, campaigning for Republicans around the country, has credited his 10-year, $1.35 trillion, tax cut enacted by Congress last year, with helping to pull the economy out of a recession.
Democrats, however, point to the tax cut as a key reason why the federal government posted a $159 billion deficit in the 2002 fiscal year, ending four straight years of surpluses.
Even though the third quarter GDP performance was the strongest since the economy posted a brisk 5 percent growth rate in the first three months of this year, it was weaker than the 3.6 percent pace that many analysts were predicting.
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