What's behind the North Carolina unemployment rate?

Understanding unemployment data isn't easy. The rate goes up, the rate goes down. Two weeks later, it's been adjusted. Move your mouse over the data points below to go beyond the simplified statistics and show what's really going on with jobs in North Carolina.

First, take note of the top line, labeled "labor force."

That line reflects the total number of people who could be employed in the state in any given month. In December, the total as reported by the state Department of Commerce was 4,919,346.

The second line, labeled "employed" is an indication of the number of people with jobs. In December, that number was 4,667,739.

If that number goes way up in a given month or quarter, it's usually a pretty good sign.

The bottom line is the number of people in the labor force who are unemployed.

If you subtract the second line from the first, you'll end up at the bottom of the graph and the number of unemployed people in the state's labor force. In December, that number was 251,607.

Although these numbers combine to help create the much-debated unemployment rate, presenting the raw data allows workers and job seekers to see the employment picture in its simplest form.

The state unemployment rate in December was 5.1 percent. Over the course of the past year, the rate has trended down. The December 2015 unemployment rate was 5.6 percent.

What about those who've given up?

Quite often, the month-to-month unemployment rate – both on a national and state level – fails to paint the entire picture of the jobs market and how it fluctuates based on the number of part-time positions available and how many people start or stop looking for work in a given month.

Reported quarterly, U-6 unemployment data is one of the many reports government officials use to include factors left out of the standard unemployment rate.

Since the 2008 economic downturn, many of the long-time unemployed have become discouraged or have run out of unemployment benefits and dropped out of the job market. Those who have given up looking for a job are considered marginally attached -- people not actively looking for work who have indicated that they want a job and have unsuccessfully looked for a job in the past 12 months

It combines the total number of people unemployed, marginally attached workers and the total number of people employed part-time for economic reasons as a percent of the labor force.

In the last quarter, the U-6 rate was 9.3 percent, much higher than the month-to-month unemployment rates reported in October, November and December.