COLUMBIA, SC —
South Carolina's unemployment rate fell to 6.6 percent in December, falling below the national rate for the first time since January 2001, the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce reported.
More people found work in the month when retailers usually boost employment for the holiday season.
The labor force number rose by less than 1,000 people over November. The labor force has risen between November and December in all but one year since 2001.
Since December 2012, South Carolina's unemployment rate has declined by two percentage points while the total number of unemployed dropped by 43,493 and those with jobs rose by 26,824, the agency said.
Meanwhile, 16,669 people left the labor force in the past year.
Gov. Nikki Haley credited hard work by leaders across the state -- whom she calls "Team South Carolina" -- for falling unemployment.
"The fact that more South Carolinians are working today than since 2008, proves we are moving in the right direction, she said in a statement released by her office.
South Carolina's unemployment rate could fall below 7 percent for the first time in 5 1/2 years when December data is released today.
The news will be hailed as a good sign for a recovering state economy. The jobless rate was 7.1 percent in November.
While more people are working and fewer are drawing unemployment, the unemployment rate is falling because South Carolina's labor force -- those working or looking for work -- tumbled in 2013.
More people have stopped trying to find jobs for some reason.
Economists want to see a rising labor force (and the rising jobless rate that comes with it) as a sign that more people are optimistic about job prospects.
This is also happening nationwide.
The U.S. jobless rate fell to 6.7 percent in December -- the first reading under 7 percent since November 2008.
But the percentage of Americans working or looking for work stands at a 35-year low, according to federal labor data.
At least, South Carolina is not alone.
Snow day -- everywhere
The threat of snow later today has shut down schools, government offices and courts across a good part of the state, especially in the Columbia area.
A planned news conference to announce the certification of a third party in South Carolina also was nixed.
S.C. Department of Transportation threw out some numbers to show the agency is ready for Palmetto Blizzard '14:
• 1,583 maintenance employees available
• 77 tons of salt
• 98 tons of sand
• 17,885 gallons of calcium chloride
• 154,150 gallons of salt brine
• 1,133 pieces of equipment available
So wait for the snow -- and keeping reading on.
Gov. Nikki Haley's public schedule today (UPDATE)
• 2 p.m.: Attend grand opening of Continental Tire of the Americas in Sumter (Background)
NOTE: She has canceled a speech to the S.C. Specialty Foods Association Annual Membership Meeting at the S.C. State Farmers Market in West Columbia and a visit Alice Drive Middle School in Sumter.
What to expect from the State of the Union tonight
Raising the minimum wage is expected to be a top topic of President Barack Obama's State of the State address tonight, according a report from the McClatchy Washington Bureau:
President Barack Obama will announce tonight in his State of the Union address that he will raise the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour for workers on new government contracts, according to a White House document.
Liberal groups have been pressing Obama to act unilaterally since a divided Congress has failed to take up the issue to raise the minimum wage for all Americans.
But Obama's action will be more limited that advocates wanted -- impacting only future cntracts, not existing ones.
Obama will renew his call tonight for Congress to pass legislation to raise the minimum wage for all workers from $7.25 per hour to $10.10 per hour by 2015.
'Wish it would have been a few months ago'
The State's Sammy Fretwell spoke to an executive with the operator of a large Aiken County potato farm that has caused a recent fuss over how much water it can draw from the Edisto River:
We tried to meet different people in the community but, obviously, there are some people that we never met that we would have liked to, said Jason Walther, of Walther Farms. Were doing that now. I wish it would have been a few months ago.
Walther, whose family owns Walther Farms of Three Rivers, Mich., said the big potato farm wont hurt the Edisto Rivers South Fork, through water withdrawals, fertilizer application or pesticide use.
In his first interview with The State, Walther said the company never has encountered a dust-up like the one that erupted in South Carolina late last fall after people learned the potato farm would siphon as much as 9.6 billion gallons of water annually from the Edisto Rivers South Fork, which flows into the ACE Basin nature preserve.
The power of youth
The State's Adam Beam reports about how a bill proposing an official state fossil started:
South Carolina has 50 official state symbols including a state heritage horse, a state migratory marine mammal and a state beverage but it does not have a state fossil.
Eight-year-old Olivia McConnell wants to change that.
The third grader at Carolina Academy in Lake City wrote a letter to her state lawmakers Rep. Robert Ridgeway and Sen. Kevin Johnson, both D-Clarendon asking them to sponsor a bill to make the wooly mammoth the official state fossil.
It worked and a bill was introduced.
Plus, the report includes a quiz testing your knowledge of South Carolina's official state symbols: Do you know the official state fruit or hospitality beverage?
Throwing spuds at the governor: Sen. Vincent Sheheen, the likely Democratic candidate for governor, took some swipes at Gov. Nikki Haley after meeting with local farmers in Aiken County on Monday who are angry about a potato farm's authorization to withdraw large amounts of water from the Edisto River. Full story
Government restructuring bill signed: Republican Gov. Nikki Haley signed a bill Monday that eliminates the state Budget and Control Board and transfers most of its functions to a new Department of Administration under the governor's control. Full story
Leatherman backs gas tax hike: Senate Finance Chairman Hugh Leatherman supports raising the gas tax to provide recurring dollars for road and bridge improvements. Full story
Haley races to Darlington: Gov. Nikki Haley discussed ways to attract more businesses to Darlington Raceway for the annual NASCAR race on April 12 and year round when she visited the track with NASCAR leadership on Monday. Full story
Learn more about how hospitals are doing: The state's Medicaid agency on Monday introduced an easy-to-navigate website showing the financial data of South Carolina's 60 hospitals that will eventually allow patients to comparison shop for health care. Full story
SCE&G boosts ownership in nuclear plant: SCE&G will buy an additional 5 percent ownership stake from partner Santee Cooper in the two new nuclear reactors under construction at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in Jenkinsville, north of Columbia, the utility said Monday. Full story
Cell phone ban coming to Greenville?: Greenville City Council on Monday unanimously approved a proposal to ban the use of hand-held devices while driving a move that officials said is intended to solve the larger problem of distracted driving. Full story
How could you?: The head of the State Ports Authority has called out U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott for their recent votes against the $1.1 trillion appropriations bill, which contains money for deepening Charleston's harbor. Full story
More notice sought before the cameras start rolling: Horry County is proposing a 45-day advance notice of filming in the county, which state film officials said is a stretch from the normal three- to five-day notice that other areas require. County officials have said they want that notice to avoid a similar situation that Georgetown County went through last summer with the filming of Party Down South a Jersey Shore-style reality TV show where the cast has been seen binge drinking and partying outdoors in a residential area. Full story
Darius missed his jam because of a jam: Darius Rucker won his first Grammy Award in 18 years, but the former Hootie & the Blowfish frontman missed picking up his trophy on stage because he was stuck in traffic on Sunday night in Los Angeles. Full story
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