I've frequently found the so-called unemployment rate (ostensibly at 9.5%) to be irksome, since it leaves out tens of millions of people (for instance, those who have given up looking for jobs at all). I found this graph from the marvelous Zero Hedge site to be eye-opening.
It shows the percentage of our population working is only about 58%. That, to me, is a far more meaningful figure. Now I realize that including schoolchildren and infants as part of the population might seem silly, but at least we're dealing with a metric that isn't subject to the whims of politically-driven government statisticians.
One might suppose that being back at the levels of the 50s, 60s, and 70s wasn't so bad – – well, I imagine that the reason for the surge in the 80s and 90s is because so many more women (who are also part of the population!) were working too.
The bottom line is that, for the whole of this millennium, the percentage of US citizens at work has been dropping very, very sharply.