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US jobless rate falls to lowest level in 16 years

Though businesses added a relatively low 138,000 jobs in May, the nation's unemployment rate continued to drop
Just released:

The. U.S. unemployment rate is at its lowest level in 16 years, falling to 4.3 percent even as job growth slowed in May.

Employers added a weaker-than-expected 138,000 jobs in May, undershooting forecasts of around 180,000. Job gains for March and April were also revised down, showing 66,000 fewer jobs were added than first estimated.

The Labor Department's monthly employment report is closely watched as a a gauge of the economy and, of late, for hints on whether the Federal Reserve is likely to hike interest rates.

The low unemployment rate demonstrates that the labor market is tight. Pantheon Macroeconomics' chief economist, Ian Shepherdson, observed that "employers are still able to find the people they want, though surveys and anecdotal evidence strongly suggest that it is becoming harder to find qualified staff."

But below the surface, the figures show an economy moving at different speeds for different people. Here are the main takeaways from May's report.

May marks the fourth straight month that the retail sector has shed jobs, highlighting the ongoing financial struggles of many brick-and-mortar stores amid the growth in ecommerce.

Nearly 80,000 retail jobs have been lost since February, according to the latest figures, and a dozen chains have announced closing or bankruptcy , including Rue21, BCBGMaxAzria, Payless, Wet Seal and H.H.Gregg. And the future isn't looking good: An analysis from the Los Angeles Times this week found that up to a quarter of U.S. malls could close.

Some observers say the weakness is specific to a small subset of stores, like department stores and the apparel sector, and has been balanced out by more specialized or higher-end retailers.

"The retail locations doing well are more boutique, experience-oriented retail that provide more of a rich, contextual shopping experience," Andrew Chamberlain, chief economist at Glassdoor, told CBS News. "Although there's weakness in those big box stores, there's still a lot of demand," he said.

Wages in May increased 2.5 percent from the year before, in line with the moderate growth they've shown in recent months. That figure is well below the 3 or 4 percent growth typical of earlier economic recoveries and throws into question the understood relationship between unemployment and pay (as one drops, the other typically rises).

Many economists believe that wage growth is right around the corner. As the employment rate keeps dropping, average wage growth will accelerate, the thinking goes -- a phenomenon known as "nonlinear acceleration."

"A lot of economists believe that once we eventually get a good one-half or 1 percent below full employment, wages will start to accelerate very quickly," Steve Rick, chief economist at CUNA Mutual Group, told CBS News ahead of the latest jobs report. This is already happening in some geographic pockets, he noted.


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