Yeah, it's been worse, a few times. The times I know best are the late-'80s-early-'90s, when I was trying. Hiring was going great guns at least from 1987. Then, that boom ground to a halt beginning in the summer of 1990; ironically, when I had my first interview.
I remember on that day how there was so much buzz about hiring stopping everywhere. That was the day after Iraq invaded Kuwait. I've read since that the early-'90s recession had begun. There was a little hiring here, a little hiring there, but commuter hiring ground to a halt in mid-1991. Factor in the Eastern and Pan Am shutdowns and those pilots competing for both jobs at the majors and commuter jobs. Hiring really didn't recover until maybe 1995. And, of course, the brakes has been put on that boom. Similar circumstances to 1991, if you view it that way.
There's always some hiring. You just don't see massive hiring booms that often. It's either big time feast or big time famine.
Oh yes! Early 90's I remember being told I needed 1,000 hours to instruct! Yes it has been much worse. At least there is some movement with small jet carriers and regionals hiring. Its only a matter of time before things turn around. Timing is everything in this industry.
Hiring is not really that bad, which doesn't explain why I'm still unemployed but it has become extremely competative in that it is nearly imposible to get an interview anywhere without a letter of recommendation (prefferably three) from someone on the inside (prefferably someone you've flown with). I'm not sure how it is at the commuter level since they tend to have higher rates of attrition and therefore have to hire more heavily.
How about 1973-74, there were no airline jobs, Delta pilots took jobs as baggage smashers, Eastern pilots got contract jobs in the Iranian Air Force, lots of guys went back on active duty. Back in the old days airlines were mostly ex-military. There was nothing going on back then, except maybe this small overnight mail company out of Little Rock, Federal something, But nobody would want to work there, pay DA-20 F/O about $400 per month and then sometimes they did not even get a check. Who would want to work there?