I talked about unemployment in my macro classes yesterday. If you go to this site by the Bureau of Labor Statistics called Employment status of the civilian noninstitutional population 16 years and over, 1970 to date, you can see unemployment rates going back to 1970. It also shows the percent of the civilian noninstitutional population that is employed. The graph below shows how that has changed over time.
The general trend since 1975 has been up, although it has flutctuated. Unfortunately, it has been going down for a couple of years and we are well below the high of 64.4% in the year 2000. It was 59.3% in 2009.
But the average for the years 1970-84 was 58%. So we are still above that. That does not mean what we have is good. But it just puts what is currently going on in perspective.
Some will say that we have a large prison population, so they are not part of the figures and that prison population has been growing. In 2008, the U. S. prison population was 1,610,446. See Prisoners in 2008. Suppose we increase the number of people in the civilian noninstitutional population by that amount. Right now it is 235,801,000. The new figure will be 237,411,446. Now let's keep the number employed the same, at 139,877,000. That would 58.9% employed, still higher than the average from 1970-1984.
Now there were some tough economic times in that earlier period. But we survived and we weren't exactly destitute. So although the economy is not doing well right now, maybe things are not so bad.