WASHINGTON

- The U.S. economy flexed its old muscles in 2014.

More than five years removed from the Great Recession, worries had taken hold at the start of the year that perhaps the world's largest economy had slid into a semi-permanent funk.

But consumers, businesses and investors, after enduring a brutal winter, showed renewed vigor as the year wore on and set the U.S. apart from much of the world.

Stocks repeatedly set record highs - and did so again yesterday, with the Dow Jones industrial average rising modestly to a new peak. Employers were on pace to add nearly 3 million jobs, the most in 15 years. Sinking oil prices cut gasoline costs to their lowest levels since May 2009. Auto sales accelerated. Inflation was a historically low sub-2 percent.

The U.S. economy proved it could thrive even as the Federal Reserve ended its bond-buying program, which had been intended to aid growth by holding down long-term loan rates.

All told, the U.S. remained insulated from the financial struggles surfacing everywhere from Europe and Latin America to China, Japan and Russia.

Economists say it largely reflected the delayed benefits of finally mending the damage from the worst downturn in nearly 80 years.

Unlike past recoveries that enjoyed comparatively swift rebounds, this one proved agonizingly slow. It took 6 1/2 years to regain all the jobs lost to the recession - 8.7 million - far longer than during previous recoveries.