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Chart: What's the real unemployment rate?

A representative, left, hands a list of employment descriptions to a job seeker during the Choice Career Fair in San Antonio, Texas.
Matthew Busch | Bloomberg | Getty Images
A representative, left, hands a list of employment descriptions to a job seeker during the Choice Career Fair in San Antonio, Texas.

The Labor Department said Friday that the unemployment rate stayed at 5.1 percent in September — but does that tell the real story?

Most economists look beyond the "main" unemployment rate to other figures that can give a more textured view of the employment situation. On jobs day, the Bureau of Labor Statistics puts out a slew of figures, each of which provide their own view of the economy.

One of those figures is the U-6 rate. Many economists look to the U-6 rather than the main unemployment rate (also know as the U-3). The BLS defines U-6 as "total unemployed, plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force," plus all marginally attached workers.

In other words, the unemployed, the underemployed and the discouraged — a rate that remains stubbornly above prerecession levels.

The U-6 rate dipped in September to 10 percent, the one bright spot of the jobs report. The overall trend in the U-6 has been more volatile than the main unemployment rate and it's down 170 basis points over the past year, versus an 80-basis-point drop in the U-3.

The jobs report this month has particular importance because of the Fed's dependence on data for its decision on raising rates. The Fed declined to raise rates in September as many had predicted, but had hinted that a rate hike in 2015 was still likely.

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Fed Chair Janet Yellen recently said policymakers were waiting to see an increase in the labor participation rate, as well as a decline in unemployment.

The nation added 142,000 jobs in September, just 2 percent higher than in September 2014.

One ongoing cause for concern in the jobs report has been the area of wages. Average hourly wages increased 2.2 percent on a year-over-year basis in September; weekly wages inched up 2.4 percent.

When the unemployment rate declines, average wages typically rise as employers have to compete for a smaller pool of job candidates.

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