WASHINGTON – This year’s home sales are shaping up to be as dismal as last year’s, despite cheap home prices and mortgage rates that have fallen to the lowest levels in decades.

Sales of previously occupied homes rose last month, but not enough to keep this summer from being the slowest for home sales in more than a decade. And the year is not expected to finish much better.

About 3.4 million previously occupied homes have been sold in the U.S. through August. Most experts expect roughly 5 million to be sold for the entire year. That would be in line with last year’s totals and just above sales for 2008, the worst since 1997.

A few even think sales will fizzle so much this fall that the year will finish worse than 2008, when the country was in the deepest recession since the Great Depression.

“We don’t have great expectations for housing for the remainder of the year,” said Michael Feroli, an economist at JPMorgan Chase. “If you’re not confident (in the economy), you’re not going to be buying a home.”

High unemployment and a record number of foreclosures have kept the economy from gaining strength since the recession ended. Those factors also have deterred people from buying homes, with many worried that home prices have yet to reach their bottom.

The median sale price last month was $178,600, up only 0.8 percent from a year ago. Potential buyers are nervous, said Eric Matz, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker in the San Diego area.

“Nobody wants to see their investment go down after they buy it,” he said. “It’s as tough as I’ve ever seen it.”

Sales of previously occupied homes did increase 7.6 percent in August from July to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.13 million, the National Association of Realtors said Thursday. But July’s sales were the worst in a 15 years, making August the second worst since 1997.

The cheapest mortgage rates in decades haven’t helped. The average rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage was unchanged at 4.37 percent, mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said. Earlier this month, the rate dipped to 4.32 percent, which was the lowest level on records dating back to 1971.

And unlike last year, this fall there are no government incentives to encourage home-buying. Those were offered throughout most of 2009 before ending in April of this year.

The real estate industry pushed hard for those incentives, making the case that they would help the housing market recover. The Obama administration spent $25 billion on the tax credits. But many economists say the government simply encouraged buyers to make their purchases earlier in the year.