Exclusive: S.C. Unemployment Shrinks, Where are the Workers Coming from?

Richard Breen

Monday, January 27th, 2020

South Carolina’s ever-expanding workforce hit new milestones in December, according to data from the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce. And it appears workers aren’t simply coming from the ranks of the unemployed.

Statewide unemployment shrank to 2.3% in December, a record low. The number of people working grew to an estimated 2,329,639, a record high.

There were 74,712 more people working in the Palmetto State in December 2019 than December 2018, according to DEW estimates. Also, there were 19,949 fewer unemployed people in December than 12 months earlier.

Those two statistics raise a question. Assuming the 19,949 fewer jobless people were part of the 74,712 additional South Carolina workers, who are the other 54,763 workers? People who moved to the state? Young people aging into the workforce from high school or higher education programs? Jobless folks who weren’t looking for work but found it anyway? Something else?

A DEW source contacted by South Carolina CEO said that kind of data isn’t able to be accurately tracked. Looking further, we found bits of information that shed partial light.

According to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, South Carolina’s population grew by 64,587 people between July 1, 2018, and July 1, 2019. Many of those people came for work, according to a survey by United Van Lines.

Polling its customers, the moving company found that inbound moves to South Carolina outnumbered outbound moves by 61.8% to 38.2%. Of inbound moves, 34.51% were job-related. Another 39.55% were retirees.

Interestingly, of outbound moves, 60.93% were job-related.

“Across all regions, a major driver of migration is a career change, as approximately one out every two people who moved with United Van Lines in the past year moved for a new job or company transfer,” the company said in a release.

In November, the Economic Development Partnership, an organization that serves Aiken, Edgefield, McCormick and Saluda counties, compared 2017 and 2019 jobs data for its region.

In McCormick and Saluda, “you have a combination of unemployed becoming employed along with youth aging in and those on the sidelines getting back in the game,” said Will Williams, the organization’s president and chief executive. In Aiken and Edgefield, it’s primarily unemployed people finding jobs.

While the state’s labor force has grown in the past two years, Williams said his group’s research found it actually shrank slightly in Aiken and Edgefield. Unemployment is down significantly in all four counties.

Williams said the workforce in his region is at a critical point.

“Since 2010, each county has grown in population by slightly less than 1% according to ESRI (a geographic data company),” he said. “We need more growth to sustain job growth. As Gov. (Henry) McMaster likes to say, we have jobs looking for people.”

Some of those people may still be on the sidelines, where Dan Ellzey, DEW executive director, sees an opportunity.

“We have over 1.6 million individuals sitting on the sidelines. That is, they are not working and are not looking for work,” Ellzey said in a statement. “Based upon government data, we feel like over 5% of these individuals could be lured back into the workforce if the situation meets their demands.”

Other highlights from the December jobs report:

Lexington and Charleston counties had the lowest unemployment rates in the state, at 1.9% each.

Allendale and Bamberg counties had the state’s highest jobless rates, at 4.6% and 4.5%, respectively.

Metro area unemployment rates were 2.0% in Charleston, 2.1% in Greenville, 2.2% in Columbia and 2.5% in Florence.

The U.S. unemployment rate was 3.5% in December.