The U.S. hasn't had unemployment this high for this long since the Great Depression. That's weighing heavily on a lot of Americans and seems to be a key part of the frustration and anger that's being directed at Wall Street and the big banks. For many people, it's not so much about high finance as it is about a weekly paycheck.
"I'm unemployed, and I'm down here because I'm unemployed," says Bob Norkus, a protester in downtown Boston.
Walking around, it doesn't take long to figure out that many people here have the same problem.
"Right now I'm unemployed," says Fernando Olivera. "I was laid off because of education cuts."
"The construction industry has been stagnant, you know, over the past four or five years," says Jason Chambers. "We've been underemployed or unemployed. And right now I'm unemployed — a full-time occupier."
Lisa Doherty stands on the edge of the road holding a sign up to oncoming traffic that says, "People Before Profits."
Doherty, who lost her job as a loan processor, says she's frustrated. She says she feels like the financial system is somehow stacked against her, even though she used to work in the mortgage business.
"I can't get a job at a bank as a mortgage loan processor, because I have bad credit," she says, "and I have bad credit because I don't have a job. ... It's a Catch-22."
Doherty says she doesn't know what to do. She's living with family because she can't afford her own place. She's been turned down for retail jobs — everything she applies for.
"Things need to change," she says. "You know, I just want a better world."
Doherty says she's been looking for a job for three years.
"I have five kids," she says. "They're all struggling, too. I don't want my kids to struggle. I don't want my grandchildren to struggle. So that's why I'm out here."
Not everybody here is unemployed, nor do they have such a concrete message. There are college students and recent graduates. One has a sign with the drawing of a smiling pig that says, "Four Legs Good, Two Legs Bad," a reference to the book Animal Farm.
Organizer Nadeem Mazen says he's upset about the banks and regulators.
"[Fed Chairman] Ben Bernanke spoke at my commencement in 2006," Mazen says. "His speech was long, poorly formulated and irrelevant. The person in front of me — and behind me — fell asleep in their chairs."
But a lot of the people here have more to worry about than the quality of an MIT commencement speech.
"I know thousands of guys like me who just want to go to work and be able to pay their mortgage before Bank of America forecloses on them," says Chambers, the unemployed iron worker. He wants Congress to pass a jobs bill and put guys like him back to work.
"In Boston, the Washington Street bridge — it's built with buck rivets," he says. "We haven't used those since 1935, just to give you an idea of how old that bridge is and badly in need of repair. It's a dangerous situation. Like a lot of our infrastructure, it needs to be replaced and it can provide jobs."
The message from the protests might be confusing at times. But for a lot of people here, desperation over being unable to find a job is getting them out in the streets.