Unemployment rate shows at 5% but more realistic rate is higher

The national unemployment rate rose slightly to 5 percent in September, the Labor Department reported Friday. But relying on that one headline number as an indicator of the economy's direction leaves a lot of important information below the surface.

Every month on "Big Jobs Friday," the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases a boatload of data, each point of which provides its own unique perspective on a facet of the nation's employment situation. Economists look past the official unemployment rate — that 5 percent figure, which is known as the "U-3" rate — to other metrics that provide their own nuanced views of the state of jobs.

One of those figures is called the U-6 rate, which has a broader definition of what unemployment means. That figure remained unchanged at 9.7 percent in September.

The official unemployment rate is composed of "total unemployed, as a percent of the civilian labor force," but doesn't include a number of employment situations in which workers might find themselves. The U-6 rate is defined as all unemployed, plus "persons marginally attached to the labor force, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the labor force."

In other words: That's the unemployed, the underemployed and the discouraged.

The U-3 rate has in the past few months returned to the prerecession levels that economists consider full employment. The U-6 rate has remained above precession levels, though it has seen significant improvement in the past few years.

Economists expected 176,000 jobs to be added in September, according to a late Reuters estimate. The report showed that the market added 156,000 jobs.

One area of concern in recent years has been the labor force participation rate, which measures what portion of the population is either employed or looking for work. The participation rate has fallen since the recession, likely because of demographic shifts such as baby boomers retiring.

Some economists also think workers are feeling discouraged and are not actively seeking work. Others think it's more cyclical factors or even changes in the nature of the economy.

In September, the participation rate rose by a tenth of a percentage point to 62.9 percent.

As more unemployed people find work and the labor market tightens, one may expect wages to rise as employers compete with each other to attract the remaining qualified candidates. In recent months, wages have in fact been increasing after years of tepid growth. But many economists have worried that many of the jobs being added are low-wage, low-skill positions.

In September, average hourly wages rose to $25.79. Average weekly wages were up to $887.18.

The state of jobs in the economy is bound to be a factor in the presidential election. There's just one more jobs report to come out before voters go to the polls on Nov. 8, but much of the early voting will take place before then.

Democrat Hillary Clinton has laid out a jobs plan focusing on increased spending for infrastructure and clean energy as well as shoring up manufacturing in the U.S. Republican Donald Trump has been less specific about jobs initiatives he would pursue. He has repeatedly criticized the Obama administration, claiming that it's allowed American companies to ship jobs overseas and as not done enough to create job growth at home.

With the 156,000 jobs added in September, the nation has netted nearly 10.7 million jobs since Obama took office. At this point in his tenure, that's around half the jobs added during Bill Clinton's presidency and a little less than those added under Ronald Reagan.