Basically, unless you had nothing but Treasury bonds or gold you were ****ed to varying degrees. How long you were paying in for didn't matter because the assets of the funds themselves became worthless, and you can only extract from your 401K what it's actually worth.
And believe it or not, a lot of American hedge funds were investing in stupid crap like short-selling and shady currencies, sometimes without full disclosure. And a lot of Americans went with high-risk options anyway, or were forced to by their employer.
The stock market is higher, true, but that's mostly because the Federal Reserve has gone into overdrive re-pumping new printed money into the economy and buying worthless bonds off banks. The financial and labour markets are fairly divorced at this point - a Dow at 13,000 with 7.1% unemployment is pretty anomalous in history.
TL;DR: Unstable is the new stable.