This time, though, economists and business leaders are more measured in their optimism about the recovery. Growth is real, they say, though they remain unconvinced it will accelerate all that much.
As President Obama prepares to tackle the economy in his State of the Union address Tuesday night, economists and industry executives are likewise sifting through the data.
The darkest clouds that marred the economic landscape last summer and fall have indeed lifted, but expectations have also been reined in. Many of the factors that have restrained growth, including heavy household debt and strained state and local budgets, remain. Parts of Europe are still unstable, and higher food and energy prices could crimp household spending. The construction industry has not yet staged a comeback.
The unemployment rate, stubbornly high at 9.4 percent, could climb higher as more people who stopped looking for work return to the job search. And few see enough jobs being created over the next year to help more than a small portion of the eight million people who lost work during the recession.
So even if the economy is picking up steam, and the president is hoping to ride its momentum, making a significant dent in joblessness will probably remain frustratingly difficult for him and his new economic advisers.
“It’s really a muddle-through economy,” said David Rosenberg, chief economist and strategist for the investment firm Gluskin Sheff & Associates.
Part of what has changed is simply a growing belief that unlike in previous recoveries, the economy will not suddenly ignite.
“After a normal recession, once the economy starts growing again, within six months, you’re back to where you started,” said Kenneth S. Rogoff, a professor at Harvard and co-author, with Carmen M. Reinhart, of “This Time Is Different,” a history of financial crises. “We’re still just crawling back to where we started.” He added, “It’s going to take a few more years, really, before we’re back at whatever normal is.”
One reason that hope was crushed last spring was that debt crises in Europe’s weak countries destabilized the stock markets, in turn unnerving consumers. And when fiscal stimulus measures expired, like the tax credit for first-time homebuyers, the housing market sagged.
Unlike last year, hardly anyone is expecting skyrocketing growth in coming months. Industry leaders instead talk of stable improvement.
“We don’t expect a big upswing in sales,” said Tom Henderson, a spokesman for General Motors. “It’s just slow and steady, which is tracking along what we’re seeing in the economy.”
The automaker announced on Monday that it was beginning a third shift at its pickup truck assembly plant in Flint, adding 750 jobs. Most of those slots will be filled by people who were laid off in recent years.
Overall sales are starting to improve, and bank lending to businesses rose in the fourth quarter of last year for the first time since the end of 2008, according to an analysis of Federal Reserve data by Mark Zandi of Moody’s Analytics.
Small businesses — which represented about two-thirds of job growth in the last recovery — are still cautious.
“It’s not that sales haven’t been improving, but it’s improving from a really horrible level of a year ago,” said William C. Dunkelberg, chief economist for the National Federation of Independent Business. “We still haven’t got Main Street firing on many pistons.”
Some small businesses are having trouble getting bank loans because they do not have the collateral. Ami Kassar, chief executive of MultiFunding, a small-business lending broker in Plymouth Meeting, Pa., said that many of his clients had seen the values of their homes, office buildings and warehouses fall so much that banks would not accept them as security.
Mr. Kassar said that when his clients did procure loans, they often used the money to cover payrolls rather than to hire new workers, in part because many of their largest customers were taking longer to pay their bills.