From Dylan Matthews at Wonkblog:
Even though we’ve created (by Obama’s count from his speech) 7.2 million private sector jobs since the trough of the recession, that job growth has basically just been enough to keep pace with population growth over the last 4 years. The all-important employment-to-population ratio flatlined after a massive drop during the recession, and, as you can see from the chart, the reason that the unemployment rate (U3) has been dropping is because people are dropping out of the labor force (dotted blue line).
Granted, due to our aging population, some of this was inevitable. The figure cited in Matthews’ piece says that 20-25% of the drop in the labor-force participation rate is due to demographic issues. However, that still means that 80% of the drop in the employment-to-population ratio is due to the cyclical downturn. And it is amid that environment that Obama is pivoting to a longer-term economic plan rather than focusing on the (continuing, sluggish, and altogether inadequate) short-term recovery. [Though, to be fair, one can hardly blame him, as the chance of any economic plan bypassing Congress is nil…]