Here's a back-of-the-envelope calculation: If jobs could grow at a mid-1990s pace of 3 million a year, it would take about five years. If jobs grow at a mid-2000s pace of 2 million a year, it would take a lot longer.
In the past, steep job losses have often been followed by strong rebounds in jobs. What's different today is a historic erosion of household wealth: households amassed record levels of debt in the past decade, and then saw the value of homes and stock portfolios tank.
Against this backdrop, economists say the number of jobs needed is more than the government can afford to engineer.
Consider that in May, the Obama administration gauged the likely impact of its record stimulus package as creating 6.8 million "job years" (one job existing for one year) during the 2009-2012 period. Put differently, the stimulus is expected to generate jobs temporarily, peaking in 2010 at about 3 million jobs for that year.
Lawmakers weigh more fixes
The nation won't know for a while whether the stimulus will deliver on that estimate. But with the unemployment rate pushing near 10 percent, lawmakers are considering a range of additional policies.
• Extending the first-time homebuyer tax credit, worth up to $8,000.
• Extending unemployment benefits and health benefits for laid-off workers.
• Tax breaks for businesses that hire new employees or spend on new equipment and facilities.
• Additional federal spending on infrastructure, or aid to state governments.
"Under any plausible scenario, the effects of [additional] fiscal stimulus are still likely to fade in the second half of 2010," Alec Phillips, an economist at Goldman Sachs, wrote in a report Friday assessing these proposals. He said the proposals, depending on their sizes, might increase gross domestic product in 2010 by anywhere from 0.2 to 1.6 percent.