ST. CLOUD -- Economists are cautiously optimistic that the national and state economies will begin to recover in the second half of this year.

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office expects the U.S. economy will grow at a 4.6 percent rate this year.

Laura Kalambokidis is Minnesota's State Economist. She says the risk of recovery is wrapped-up in the mass vaccinations of most Americans.

The second half of the year will have stronger growth than the first half of the year, and that if we can get a large portion of the population immunized by the summertime then that second half of the year growth can occur.

Kalambokidis says there is still an incredible amount of uncertainty and volatility surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. But, she says after the second quarter of last year where the real Gross Domestic Product declined at a record rate, any growth is reason to be optimistic.

The COB also says employment nationally will not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024.

Kalambokidis is participating Thursday in the annual Economic Outlook hosted by St. Cloud State University.

She is also busy putting together a new state budget forecast which will be released later this month. Back in early December, the budget forecast predicted a $2.3 billion deficit for the state for the next two-year budget cycle that starts on July 1st.

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