By Mark Felsenthal and Will Dunham
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House on Monday forecast more robust economic growth in 2014 than last year and a further pickup in the economy for 2015.
Under a White House projection, the U.S. economy is expected to expand by 3.1 percent this year, faster than last year's 1.7 percent. Growth would pick up to 3.4 percent in 2015, the White House said.
The administration also forecast that unemployment would ease to an average of 6.9 percent in 2014. The jobless rate, which reached a high of 10 percent in 2009, fell to a five-year low of 6.6 percent in January.
Many economists say that the unemployment rate has dropped in part because many people have stopped looking for work. The U.S. labor force participation rate has fallen from over 66 percent before the start of the recession to 63 percent.
The administration's 2014 growth projection was more optimistic than the 2.9 percent forecast of "Blue Chip" forecasters, and the 2.7 percent projection of the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.
In contrast, the White House jobless rate forecast for the current year was more pessimistic than the 6.6 percent Blue Chip view and the 6.8 percent CBO projection.
Almost five years after the end of the recession, the economy is still growing modestly and the unemployment rate, while declining, has remained persistently high. The administration, mindful that President Barack Obama's popularity has slipped in opinion polls and worried that Democrats could lose ground to Republicans in November elections, has emphasized an agenda focused on jobs and growth.
The White House pointed to the declining budget deficit and the improved housing market, as among factors pointing to the likelihood of stronger growth. White House Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Jason Furman said ramped up U.S. energy production, slowing health care costs, and advances in technology would also drive stronger economic performance.
But Obama, who has vowed to narrow the gap between the rich and poor, wants Congress to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour from $7.25 and spend more to help speed the economy. Last week he proposed a budget for fiscal 2015 that would spend $56 billion above the $1.014 trillion Congress agreed to in January.
The additional spending would fund education, training and defense projects, and would be offset by higher revenues obtained by closing tax loopholes that benefit wealthy people. White House economic forecasts are based on the assumption that Congress would pass the president's proposal, but it was roundly rejected by most Republicans and is unlikely to be become law.
The White House also said in its report that economic recovery tends to be slower after a financial meltdown, such as the one triggered by the bursting of the U.S. housing bubble.
But some economists dispute that finding. The slow recovery from the most recent recession is an exception from what is normally a strong rebound after a financial crisis, economists at the Cleveland Federal Reserve wrote in 2012.
(Editing by Lisa Shumaker)