Sometimes there are few images more shocking than a simple graph. I initially found the following graph of the U.S. Civilian Employment-Population Ratio over the last sixteen years, with the twin-recession boundaries of the Bush years conveniently emphasized by Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, on this site. Here’s the graph, in all its decrepit glory:
By the way, here’s the link to the full graph from the St. Louis Fed that stretches back to the late 1940s.
You can see there that although the ratio has often been lower than it is now (perhaps because there were fewer women in the work force then? Just a guess on my part . . .), there has never been a drop as steeply precipitous as the one we’re going through now. You can also see clearly on the larger Fed graph that there was never a post-recession recovery that was as poor at producing jobs above the rate of population growth as the one that occurred in the middle of this decade.