"I think we're really on the verge of this becoming a self-sustaining recovery," says Richard Moody, chief economist at Regions Bank.
The economists expect average monthly job gains of 171,000, with the pace quickening late this year. They expect unemployment to fall from 7.9 percent to 7.5 percent by year's end. In October, economists surveyed predicted average monthly gains of 155,000.
Several said they raised their forecasts in part after the government this month revised up its estimate of average monthly job growth from 153,000 each of the past two years to 175,000 in 2011 and 181,000 in 2012.
The revisions reflect a job market that's expanding more rapidly than previously believed, Moody says.
After gaining an average 157,000 jobs a month in the first quarter, the economy will gradually gather force and add 184,000 a month by the fourth quarter, the economists say.
The first half of 2013 is expected to be sluggish as government spending cuts dampen growth and a payroll tax increase crimps consumer spending. Those surveyed expect the economy to grow at less than a two percent annual rate the first six months of 2013.