The story of U.S. inflation in 2021 could very well amount to this: It’s all a mirage.

Americans are likely to see prices jump across a variety of sectors next year, thanks in part to Covid-19 vaccines that will potentially turbocharge demand for such pandemic casualties as travel and tickets to sporting events.

With prices also climbing for some inputs such as copper and lumber, inflation could very well reach or surpass the Federal Reserve’s 2% target in some months. Financial markets are increasingly pricing in higher inflation in coming years, and debates over whether the central bank should start easing back its record monetary stimulus may intensify.

But one critical ingredient will be missing to sustain higher inflation: a tight labor market.

Many economists discount the odds of a longer-lasting acceleration and note that even if inflation metrics look like they’re rising in coming months, it’s partly a reflection of math. Unemployment is expected to remain elevated throughout the year, and a resurgence in demand for services could be offset by softness in rents and some goods such as used autos.

“We think inflation is going to be muted because unemployment will still be high,” said Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist at JPMorgan Chase & Co. “There will still be slack in the labor market, which would keep some pressure on wages.”

On Thursday, the Labor Department will issue its consumer price index for November. The median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg calls for a subdued 1.1% year-over-year increase.

Forecasters surveyed by Bloomberg generally expect inflation to temporarily rise above 2% in the second quarter of 2021 before settling back at or slightly below that level.

Investors are betting more and more, though, that inflation won’t stay so muted.

The 10-year breakeven rate -- a market-based measure of average inflation rates over the next decade -- on Friday reached 1.91%, its highest since May 2019. That key gauge, garnered from inflation-protected securities and standard Treasuries, has surged since touching an 11-year low of 0.47% in March.

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