In my opinion the best measure of economic recovery is the Bureau of Labor Statistics Civilian Labor Force Level which looks like this for January 1948 through July 2016.
The vertical axis in Number in thousands of 16 years and over workers in the Civilian Workforce. The data is tabulated monthly. I have overlaid a conservative trend line (red) from 1962 to 2016. The red arrows indicate recessions documented in Wikipedia.
Wikipedia tells us there have been 10 recessions, red arrows above, since 1949. They cite the following definition of a recession:
The unofficial beginning and ending dates of recessions in the United States have been defined by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), an American private nonprofit research organization. The NBER defines a recession as “a significant decline in economic activity spread across the economy, lasting more than two quarters which is 6 months, normally visible in real gross domestic product (GDP), real income, employment, industrial production, and wholesale-retail sales.
Following the end of World War II and the large adjustment as the economy adjusted from wartime to peacetime in 1945, the collection of many economic indicators, such as unemployment and GDP, became standardized. Recessions after World War II may be compared to each other much more easily than previous recessions because of these available data. The listed dates and durations are from the official chronology of the National Bureau of Economic Research. GDP data are from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, unemployment from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (after 1948). Note that the unemployment rate often reaches a peak associated with a recession after the recession has officially ended.
The recession of the Early 1980s is the closest to our most recent (2009) in peak unemployment (-2.7 vice -4.3) and length (1 yr 4 mo vice 1 yr 6 mo). But if we examine the impact on civilian labor force we see a different story.
Looking at impact on the civilian labor force we see an impact in the 1960 – 1961 recession where there was a significant plateau in the growth of the civilian labor force. Followed by a resumption of the growth rate with a net 2 M loss of civilian jobs.
We see this again in the recession of the early 1990s. The plateau, followed by a reduce growth rate and a net loss of 2 M civilian jobs.
We don’t see this in the recession of the early 2000’s, if anything there is a spike in the civilian labor force in December 1999. Likewise there is no significant plateau with the 2007 – 2009 Great Recession.
A plateau does occur post the great recession in 2009, which plateaued for 6 years (orange), before renewing an upward trend (blue), with a net loss of 10 million job. The job loss is increasing because of the reduce rate of growth beginning in 2014 (blue).