The headline statistic, which comes out of a study by the non-partisan California Budget Project, in isolation sounds worse than it is (which is not to say that this factoid is good, mind you). Labor force participation before the downturn was in the 66%ish range, so this is a meaningful decline (assuming California levels are similar to the US overall.
From the San Francisco Chronicle (hat tip reader John D):
A report released Sunday says two of five working-age Californians do not have a job, underscoring the challenges in one of the toughest job markets in decades. A new study has found that the last time employment levels among this group were this low was February 1977.
By comparison, the current national unemployment rate of 9.7% is the worst since 1983.
But the current situation is worse that that “2 out of 5″ figure indicates. The study reported thatonly 57.5% of working age Californians have a job. The Golden State has the fourth highest unemployment rate in the US. And those who have jobs are on average not doing as well as they once did:
Adding to the woes of workers, the report says, those who still have jobs are bringing home less money, the result of stagnant wages that haven’t kept pace with inflation and cutbacks in the number of hours worked per week.