The U.S. economy is poised to grow at its fastest pace in decades, carried along by a wave of pent-up demand built during the pandemic and the trillions of dollars of support the government has provided over the past year.

But what that boom will look like—how long it will last, what it might do for employment, how much inflation it might generate—isn’t clear. The grab bag of history doesn’t offer many periods in living memory when gross domestic product grew as quickly as forecasters expect for this year, and those past experiences came about when the composition of the economy was very different from today.

Economists surveyed by IHS Markit estimate on average that real, or inflation-adjusted, GDP will be 6.7% higher in the fourth quarter of 2021 than it was a year earlier. That would mark the strongest year of growth since 1983, when the economy…

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