The unemployment rate is 9.5%, heading toward 10%. Could it go to 25% as in the 1930s? It probably won't on paper, because of the ways we've been disguising "unemployment." But it might get there in reality, as discussed below.
One of these safety nets is the level of benefits, health, and others. These can amount to 20% of payroll costs. But they can be eliminated--by employing people part time, for less than 24 hours a week. Two 20-hour a week jobs is not the same as one 40-hour a week job, because the latter offers benefits, and the former doesn't. In fact, two people can "share" two jobs, on such crummy terms.
Another way of cutting "employment" is by cutting work hours. They are now at an all-time low, 33.0. Relative to a standard 40-hour work week, that's a 17.5% disguised rate of unemployment. The sum of 17.5% and 9.5% is 27.0% rate.
The last "safety net" that we've built in is the definition of unemployment rate itself. The rate we've been referring to is the headline, or U-3 rate. The so-called U6 rate includes part-time and discouraged workers that would like to work, but aren't officially looking for it. That rate could go to 25%.