South Carolina tied state records with its drop in the unemployment rate in September, but most analysts downplayed the decrease.
The state’s jobless rate dropped to 9.1 percent, a decrease of a half percent from August, the state’s employment agency said Friday.
The monthly percentage drop in the unemployment rate tied for the steepest ever in South Carolina since 1976, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. The statistics show that government, particularly education, led the way by adding 15,500 jobs, a jump of 4.7 percent.
The number of unemployed South Carolinians was down by 10,783 to 194,253, the state Department of Employment and Workforce said. That’s the biggest one-month drop in the state in the 36 years of records available online from the federal government.
And the labor force increased by 2,591 to 2,134,279. That comes after a record drop in August, making the rebound the third-largest over a month since 1976, according to federal statistics.
A spokesman for Gov. Nikki Haley cautioned that unemployment rates from one month to the next “don’t mean all that much.”
“What matters is looking at the trend over a longer period of time,” Rob Godfrey said. “We’re pleased that from the day we took office until now, the unemployment rate has dropped from 10.6 percent to 9.1 percent. But there’s no doubt we still have a long ways to go to create an economy in which everyone in South Carolina who wants a job has a job.”
USC economist Joey Von Nessen attributed the variability in the jobless numbers to companies hiring temporary workers as they await more political and economic stability before bringing on full-time workers.
“A lot of that up and down is due to the fact that a lot of (jobs) are coming from employment agencies,” he said.
The September jobless rate was 1.1 percentage points lower than a year ago, when it was 10.2 percent.
Doug Woodward, also a USC economist, said the drop was due to people giving up the job search. The unemployment rate reflects only people who are actively seeking work, and the state’s labor force – though it increased in September – has shrunk by nearly 5,000 people to 2,134,279 in September from 2,139,072 a year ago.
Woodward and Von Nessen in December predicted 1 percent job growth in 2012 – most in the manufacturing sector – and the unemployment rate remaining flat and above 10 percent as more people entered the work force and began looking for work in a brightening job market.
While job growth has picked up as expected, the number of people leaving the job market – and the corresponding drop in unemployment – has been “dramatic,” Woodward said.
“This is what people do in a recession not a recovery,” Woodward said. “I don’t understand the psychology of it.”
Nationally, the jobless rate decreased to 7.8 percent in September from 8.1 percent in August.
South Carolina’s non-seasonally adjusted nonagricultural employment was estimated at 1,862,600, an increase of 6,400 since August. Since September 2011, the number of jobs in the state is up 30,000, about 1.6 percent, the agency said.
The agency also said:
• September was the ninth month in the past 12 in which the state saw job growth. During the month, government gained the most jobs – 15,500 jobs – mostly in the area of government education services.
Other industries gaining jobs were educational and health services, 3,300 jobs, and manufacturing, 400 jobs.
The state jobs agency said those gains were due to hiring for the fall school term, an increase in the demand for health care and social assistance, and an increase in durable goods manufacturing.
Industries losing jobs during the month included: leisure and hospitality, a loss of 5,800 jobs; trade, transportation and utilities, down 2,500 jobs; professional and business services, down 2,100 jobs; construction, off 1,900 jobs; and financial activities and information, both down 200 jobs.
These job losses were due to the end of the summer tourism season, a decline in the demand for administrative and support services, and weakening demand for specialty trade contractors, the state agency said.
Employment in the Columbia metro area was down 1,400 from August, but up 5,200 from a year ago.
Unemployment in Kershaw, Lexington and Richland counties was down from August and a year ago.
• In Kershaw, unemployment fell to 7.9 percent from 8.8 percent in August and 9.8 percent a year ago.
• In Richland, unemployment fell to 7.8 percent from 8.9 percent in August and 9.4 percent a year ago.
• In Lexington, which consistently has the state’s lowest jobless rate, unemployment fell to 6.3 percent from 7.1 percent in August and 7.9 percent a year ago.
Lexington had the lowest unemployment in the state, while Marion County had the highest at 15.9 percent.