If you're driving in heavy traffic and you see a red light ahead, you and the drivers in front of you all brake together and come to a stop (unless you're from Boston). But, when the the light turns green each car waits for the car in front of it before moving, so the process of getting everyone moving again takes longer. It seems like the economy works the same way.
When the crash of 2008 occurred, most businesses put the brakes on and slowed pretty quickly. They stopped hiring and buying and waited for the storm to pass. But starting the economy, like in heavy traffic, seems to take longer since each business waits for its customers to increase their demand before it, in turn spends money by hiring and investing in inventory, and so on. Now, the last time this happened it took WWII to get everyone to stomp on their accelerators in unison.
But this time starting is actually harder for two reasons: there's no wartime mobilization (thank goodness) and technology isn't helping. Technology is raising productivity without people and without new jobs, or more specifically without lots of high paying jobs. This is a relatively new problem for society. The ability of a society to meet the basic needs of virtually all of its citizens and still have tremendous amounts of productivity and available labor left over.
In the past, excess productivity could be used to build pyramids, and today it's often used to build flat screen color TVs. But, unfortunately, most of the unnecessary consumer crap that we buy is made overseas and therefore doesn't help to build jobs here.
So, we have two barriers to achieving higher levels of employment, which in turn would lead to higher wages and greater prosperity. First, the natural latency in any recovery combined with the lack of need, or better put, the lack of market for products or services that require lots more high price labor.
The first problem is actually pretty easy to solve. The government could orchestrate and insure the process of having everyone step on their own accelerator in unison. To return to the driving metaphor, if, when the light turns green, everyone "floors it" in unison, with the confidence that the government will fix your car for free if you have an accident, then the net result is that everyone starts quickly, and no accidents happen, and therefore, the insurance cost is zero. It's more an issue of confidence.
The second problem is a bit more difficult. When we mobilized for WWII, the entire population was unified in a common goal and benefit. But, for a peacetime economy, it's more difficult to find a common need. For example, offering low cost childcare only benefits those with children or fixing the highways, only benefits those who drive.
But we do have certain common needs: renewably generated electricity, a high speed Internet connection, clean air and clean and abundant water. And, there are definitely infrastructure projects that could be created by the government that benefited everyone through the improvement in these basic services. The implication is that we are each willing to pay (albeit through taxes or fees for service) for better services and the orchestration of the development of those particular services offers us the ability to create infrastructure jobs that would meet with general approval.
What's funny is that by increasing employment we would simultaneously be increasing the tax revenue, which in turn would reduce our individual tax burden for the additional infrastructure.