Today, 5.5 million more Americans are working than were in February 2010. That's the good news.
But we are still likely years away from a jobs market anyone could consider normal. Twelve million are officially out of work. Millions more want full-time work but can't get it. The longer this lasts, the harder it is to break, as Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told Congress this week: "Lengthy periods of unemployment and underemployment can erode workers' skills and attachment to the labor force or prevent young people from gaining skills and experience in the first place -- developments that could significantly reduce their productivity and earnings in the longer term."
Here are seven ways to show the mess we're in.
First is what's been called "the scariest unemployment chart of all time," a historical look at recessions from the blog Calculated Risk:
In terms of both depth and duration, the downturn of the last four years has been unprecedented since the Great Depression. At the current pace of jobs growth, we will be back to full employment sometime around the next presidential election in 2016.
This, also from Calculated Risk, shows the composition of layoffs, hires, quits, and job openings. Anytime the blue line is below the red bars, we're losing jobs:
There's a really important takeaway from this chart: The reason unemployment rose so high during the recession isn't necessarily that so many people were laid off -- layoffs never got that high. Rather, we faced moderate layoffs coupled with very low levels of new hiring. If you lost your job, it was a bear to get a new one.
Who wasn't hiring? Governments, for one. Government employment -- typically a fail-safe during recessions -- is lower today than it was in 2005 (the sharp spikes in 2000 and 2010 reflect temporary Census hiring):
The cuts were deeper when you narrow it down to the state level. There are fewer state government employees today than there were in 2002, even though the overall population has increased by 26 million since then.
Here's the number of quits per layoff. When it's less than one, more people are being laid off than quitting voluntarily:
Next, here's the unemployment rates broken out by state. Red is current, while blue is the maximum unemployment rate hit during the recession:
Every state is below its recession peak. And if you want a job, move to North Dakota.
Here's what I think is one of the most incredible employment charts that exist. It's the total share of men that are employed:
Not only is the decline steadily downward (mostly due to a rising share of women entering the workforce), but every recession brings a steep decline in male employment, and the subsequent recovery never eclipses its pre-recession peak.
Finally, here's the number of unemployed persons per job opening:
This ratio has come down a lot, which is great. But it's still about double where it was before the recession. And the ratio likely understates the reality of the labor market, as companies have been known to publish job postings to test the market without intending to hire, or to satisfy internal labor law when they intend to promote from within.
For more on employment, check out: