From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

The year is drawing to a close with some huge unanswered questions about the economy. Unemployment remains very high, nearly 10 percent. But the stock market has been rising sharply. Shoppers got busy over the holidays, and economic output is growing. So, is it enough? We asked Adam Davidson of NPR's Planet Money for some perceptive.

ADAM DAVIDSON: If you just want the headline, here it is: The economy is doing way better than expected and way worse than it should be. The final numbers for 2010 won't be out until the end of January. But right now, according to the last government estimate, the economy is growing at around 2.6 percent.

Now, that might not sound like much, but for most of U.S. history 2.6 percent would be seen as solid, decent growth. You string a century of 2.6 percent growth years and you have a country transformed. Think of America a hundred years ago - poor farmers, child labor, coal-age technology - then think of it today. That's what steady two and a half, 3 percent growth gives you.

But a year like this, like 2010, you really, really wish there was 5 percent growth, even 6 percent growth. Because when you look at the last century, that's what you see: when the economy falls for a year or two, the next year there's a rapid rise in growth right afterwards to get you back to that steady growth path.

We fell into such a hole in 2008 and 2009, that two and a half percent growth is just not enough to put people back to work, to fund lots and lots of new technologies. It's really only enough to tread water.

Now, you do remember those horrible days when the economy was drowning, and back then, treading water would have sounded pretty good.

But now that we're here, bobbing along the surface of a too-slow economy, we want to soar.

At Planet Money, we talk to a lot of economists and we have not found one yet who thinks 2011 is going to be the year of soaring growth. But we do have one hope: economists are often wrong.

Adam Davidson, NPR News.

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