The labor force participation rate is way down. Fewer people of working age are working or looking for work than were in 1979. This has to be taken into account when looking at the unemployment rate. If as many people as were working in 2008 were looking for work now, the unemployment rate would be far higher. Some have retired; some have gone on disability; some are getting paid under the table; some are raising their children.
But what exactly is the labor force participation rate supposed to be, 60%, or 90%, and why? I remember the seventies. Moving from an economy in which industrial jobs supported middle class families, to an economy in which whatever men and women are left in the middle class work one or two ill-paid service jobs and rely on the earned income credit or other government assistance? That has been a lousy deal for everyone but the HR managers. It’s not clear to me that fewer, better-paid jobs is a bad idea, especially if those jobs encourage middle class families to form and thrive. Maybe we should ask the feminists and social scientists what they recommend, and then do the opposite.