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Charts: What's the REAL unemployment rate?

A company representative demonstrates sign spinning at the Choice Career Fair in San Antonio, Texas.
Matthew Busch | Bloomberg | Getty Images
A company representative demonstrates sign spinning at the Choice Career Fair in San Antonio, Texas.

The Labor Department said Friday that the unemployment rate stayed flat at 5 percent in November. But does that tell the whole story?

Economists look beyond the "main" unemployment number to other indicators included in the report 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 prefer the U-6 rather than the main unemployment number (also known as the U-3) because it captures people who work part time but would like to be working full time. 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 ticked up 0.1 point in November, to 9.9 percent. The overall trend in the U-6 has been more volatile than the main unemployment rate and it's down 150 basis points over the past year, versus an 80-basis-point drop in the U-3.

This month's jobs numbers are particularly important as the Fed meets Dec. 15-16 to decide whether to raise interest rates. Fed officials have said for months that they want to see more systemic improvement in the job market and the economy overall before raising rates.

Fed Chair Janet Yellen said Wednesday that data released before the FOMC meeting could still sway the board's decision. "When my colleagues and I meet, we will assess all of the available data and their implications for the economic outlook in making our policy decision," she said.

The nation added 211,000 jobs in November, beating estimates by around 10,000 jobs.

Yellen has said that policymakers were waiting to see an increase in labor participation as well as the decline in unemployment.

Another measure of the employment situation used by economists is the ratio of vacancies posted (v) to the number of unemployed persons (u). This v/u ratio measures labor market tightness: A rising indicator means more businesses are looking to fill positions relative to the number of job seekers.

With increased competition for the qualified job candidates out there, employers need to offer more by way of benefits and wages, an area that's been of concern in recent jobs reports. Average hourly earnings rose 2.3 percent on a year-over-year basis in November; weekly wages were up 2 percent to $871.13.