By MARTIN CRUTSINGER
AP Economics Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — Hampered by rising COVID-19 cases and persistent supply shortages, the U.S. economy slowed to a 2% annual rate in the July-September period, the weakest quarterly growth since the pandemic recession erupted early last year. Thursday’s report from the Commerce Department estimated that the nation’s gross domestic product — its total output of goods and services — declined sharply from the 6%-plus annual growth rates of each of the previous two quarters. But now, with confirmed COVID cases declining, vaccination rates rising and more Americans venturing out to spend money, many economists think GDP is bouncing back to a rate of 6% or even better in the current fourth quarter.