The unemployment rate: It’s not 1983

First this disclaimer: The economy is bad. Really bad. And a lot of people are unemployed, according to the Department of Employment and Economic Development, which today released statistics showing the unemployment rate jumping a half-percentage point — to 5.8%. On a seasonally-adjusted basis, that means 171,478 people are out of work, and there’s no way to put lipstick on that pig.

It’s the most people unemployed in Minnesota since June 1983, when 174,067 were unemployed.

But here’s the thing: It’s not 1983 out there. The total number of unemployed then was a far greater number of the labor market than it is today. There are about 800,000 more people in the labor force today than in 1983, when the unemployment rate (seasonally adjusted) was 8 percent.

749,581 more people are working today than were working in Minnesota in 1983.

Per capita income in Minnesota at last check — 2007 — was $41,034. In 1983 it was $12,698. Taking inflation into account, that would be $28,043.20 in 2008.

That’s what the numbers say. But what do you say? If you’re old enough to remember 1983, how different is your economic situation now than then?