The title of Hard Times is significant because it shows exactly that: that the majority of the people in England, particularly those in the working classes, really were having a hard time. Take Gradgrind, for example, the businessman and superintendent who believes that the pursuit of profit is the most important thing in life. Through his character, Dickens demonstrates that life for many children was made miserable due to a lack of creative and emotional opportunities.
Similarly, through Josiah Bounderby and his "Hands," Dickens presents the harsh realities of life for people in industrial towns, like Coketown. These people really did experience "hard times" since they were exploited by factory bosses, like Bounderby, through low pay and long hours.
In this novel, even characters belonging to higher social classes experience hard times. Louisa, for instance, ends up marrying Bounderby and becoming trapped in a loveless marriage.
It is one of Dickens's more straightforward titles--the novel is a fictional exploration of the "hard times" England was going through in the nineteenth century. Though it was the time of the British Empire and of great wealth, the capitalist system was widening the gap between the rich and the poor. There was rampant exploitation of industrial workers--factory hands like Stephen Blackpool--at the hands of the industrial bourgeoisie like Bounderby. It was also a period of joyless materialism that, Dickens felt, was threatening the rich inner life of imagination and beauty.