WASHINGTON - America’s economic recovery ended 2003 on a good note, growing at a solid 4.1 percent annual rate, and is expected to do even better in the opening quarter of this year.
The latest reading on gross domestic product for the October-to-December quarter was the same as a previous estimate made a month ago, the Commerce Department reported Thursday. That was consistent with economists’ forecasts.
GDP measures that value of all goods and services produced within the United States and is considered the most important barometer of the economy’s health.
Economic growth in the current January-to-March quarter is expected to clock in at a rate of 4.5 percent, according to some analysts’ forecasts. Growth in the April-to-June quarter also should be around that pace, they said.
Tax refunds and other tax incentives should motivate consumers and businesses to spend and invest more — energizing the economy in the first half of this year, economists said.
‘‘I think we should have another couple of good quarters,’’ said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Economy.com, an analysis firm. ‘‘The only thing we can be hoping for now is some job growth.’’
If the lackluster job climate persists, some worry that consumers might turn cautious, thus raising the risk of an economic slowdown.
The economy added just 21,000 jobs in February — all of them in government — a Labor Department survey of payrolls showed. Job growth has been painfully slow. Since President Bush took office in January 2001, the economy has lost 2.2 million jobs.
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry has pointed to this as evidence that Bush’s economic policies aren’t working. Bush, who has defended his policies, wants Congress to make his tax cuts permanent, contending it would make the economy stronger and spur job growth.