S.C. Unemployment Rate Down, But So Is Labor Force

Richard Breen

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2018

The unemployment rate was down in every South Carolina county in April as the number of people looking for work dropped significantly.

The S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce released figures Friday that showed a statewide unemployment rate of 4.2 percent, compared to 4.4 percent in March and 4.3 percent in April 2017. There were 2,225,570 people working in South Carolina in April.

“South Carolina’s businesses are hiring and have put a record number of people to work across the state,” said Cheryl Stanton, executive director of the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce, in a statement. “But we have more work to do to prepare those unemployed for today’s workforce.”

There were 97,922 unemployed in the state in April, down from 102,079 in March. While more than 300 jobs were added statewide, the total workforce (people with jobs and people actively looking) declined by 3,839.

“That’s a little bit surprising,” said Dr. Jeffrey Yankow, an economics professor at Furman University. “These are preliminary figures. It seems like an outlier of a month.”

Only Beaufort, Horry and Jasper counties had larger workforces in April than in the previous month. Those counties are ramping up for vacation season. The labor force can decline due to many reasons:

  • People move to another county/state

  • People retire, become physically unable to work or pass away

  • Discouraged workers – unemployed people who stop looking for work

When it comes to discouraged workers, “there’s a real demand for people that have skills and a decreasing demand for folks who don’t have skills,” said Jeff Ruble, economic development director in Richland County. Frustration due to that widening gap may be causing people to give up.

Richland County’s unemployment rate was 2.8 percent, down from 4.0 percent in March. The county labor force shrank by 2,719. China Jushi and Trane are still expected to have facilities up and running in the county by early 2019.

“We’re focused on industrial jobs and there’s about to be some major hiring,” Ruble said.

Trane is expanding its Killian Road facility, which is just off Interstate 77 and convenient for residents of adjacent Fairfield County. Fairfield has added jobs while also benefitting from job creation nearby.

“Samsung has hired 600 people in Newberry County and I know some of those folks have come out of Fairfield County,” said Ty Davenport, the county’s economic development director.

Fairfield had the state’s highest unemployment rate at 5.9 percent, but that was down from 8.0 percent in March. The county suffered mass layoffs when the V.C. Summer nuclear plant project was scuttled last July.

“A lot of folks that worked at the nuclear plant lived in trailer parks,” Davenport said. “They may have finally left the county.”

Another part of the labor force to keep an eye on is the “underemployed,” according to Richard Blackwell, economic development director in Oconee County. That group includes workers who either aren’t getting as much work as they want or are in jobs that don’t make full use of their skills.

Getting workers the skills they need and/or matching workers with jobs that maximize their skills is important when the unemployment rate is 2.7 percent, which is where Oconee County was in April.

“It hasn’t been that low since 1998,” Blackwell said. “If you believe most economists, 4 percent is full employment, at least for folks who want a job.”

Charleston County had the lowest unemployment rate in April, 2.2 percent, down from 3.3 percent in March. The county’s labor force contracted by 2,883 people.

Looking at particular industries, Furman’s Yankow saw gains in the leisure/hospitality and education/health sectors.

“Everything else seems to be pretty slow and steady,” Yankow said.

Leisure/hospitality added 8,200 workers in the past 12 months, while education/health added 6,700. Another big gainer has been trade/transportation/utilities, with 7,500 jobs added.