IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY…. You’ve probably seen this chart today; it’s been making the rounds. But it’s a stark and painful reminder of the scope of the nation’s unemployment crisis. Just as importantly, it raises questions anew about why policymakers aren’t acting.

The chart was put together by the Brookings Institute, and highlights how long it will take our economy to return to the unemployment levels that existed before the Great Recession began. If the economy added an average of 208,000 jobs per month — a rate we’re still not close to reaching — it would take 136 months to get back to where we were. That translates to more than 11 years.

That’s not a typo. Moderate monthly job growth would get us back to a pre-recession job market in 2021. That’s how deep a hole we fell into. Obviously, more robust economic growth would get us back to pre-recession levels much faster, but by any scenario, we’re still years away.

David Kurtz added, “Unless something changes — and the deeply troubling current emphasis on deficit reduction suggests nothing will — we’re looking at a decade or more of chronically high unemployment. It’s a situation that is not sustainable economically or politically.”

It’s that point about deficit reduction that stands out for me. As awful as the realization is about how long it will take to recover, the insult that gets added to the injury is the fact that the status quo isn’t perceived as necessarily scandalous or devastating. The Washington establishment sees the numbers, but doesn’t feel the need to leap into action.

On the contrary, we can’t even extend unemployment benefits because Republicans won’t let the Senate vote on them. When President Obama called on an emergency measure to prevent massive layoffs at the state level, Congress balked — it was considered too tough a vote in advance of the elections. Additional stimulus and/or an ambitious jobs bill are effectively off the table entirely, in part because the GOP will refuse to allow a vote, and in part because Blue Dogs want to focus on deficit reduction and spending cuts.

It doesn’t have to be this way, but the political will to act doesn’t exist, and the only segments of the public screaming for political attention are deeply confused anti-government zealots who want the unemployment crisis to be slightly worse.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.