WASHINGTON - The U.S. unemployment rate, currently at 10 percent, is unlikely to drop below 8 percent before 2012, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said on Thursday.

Inflation is likely to remain low for some time as the nation recovers from the worst downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s, the CBO said.

The estimate is likely to come as unwelcome news for Democrats in the House of Representatives, who were to meet on Thursday to consider ways to bring down the unemployment rate before they face voters in the November congressional elections.

President Barack Obama was scheduled to address the group in the afternoon.

House Democrats passed a $155 billion bill in December that aims to boost employment through increased infrastructure spending and aid to cash-strapped states that otherwise would have to lay off teachers and other public employees.

Senate Democrats are crafting a jobs bill of their own and are expected to take it up in the next few weeks. The two bills are expected to differ in substantial ways and must be reconciled before they become law.

(Reporting by Andy Sullivan, editing by Vicki Allen)