The third division? It’s the 2.6 million “marginally attached” workers who have formally withdrawn from the labor force but nonetheless want a job and have searched for work sometime in the last 12 months. Of these, 1 million are discouraged workers who have given up hope of finding a job, while the remaining 1.6 million also want a job but have stopped searching for work because of family illnesses, care-giving or other commitments.

The fourth and final division is our massive prison population of about 1.5 million men and women. As states shorten prison terms and reduce sentences to try to cope with budget shortfalls and overcrowding, many newly released individuals will begin to pour into the labor force, largely without job training or preparation.

The total size of this reserve labor force, a stunning 26.9 million people, is equal to Canada’s adult population. It is nearly 700 times as large as the current U.S. military contingent in Iraq. As large as this number is, it is still a conservative estimate because it does not count students who are holing up in colleges and waiting for the economic storm to pass, as well as people too discouraged to even formally count as marginally attached workers anymore.