Rutgers did a fantastic job of putting the current unemployment plight into perspective in their September report. During the past 20 months between December 2007 and August 2009 the US economy has lost 7,047,000 private sector jobs. This 7M job deficit under reports the current slump as the US economy adds 1.3M jobs due to growth in the labor force. By the end of 2009 the total labor deficit will be about 10,000,000 jobs.
To put this into perspective, the 1991-2001 expansion (which was quite robust) created 2.15M private sector jobs per year. If on January 1, 2010 the United States created a robust 2.15M jobs per year it would take until August 2017 until we were back at 5% unemployment. To further put how optimistic a 2.15M job growth assumption is: during the recovery between November 2001 and December 2007 the US economy created an anemic 1 million jobs per year compared to 2.4M per year between 1982 and 1990 and 2.2M between 1991 and 2001.