COLUMBIA, SC — South Carolina’s jobless rate in April dipped to its lowest level in 13 years, and some economists are saying that the state and nation are moving from recovery to economic growth.
However, concerns remain that the sharp drop in unemployment is due in large part to people giving up on finding jobs and leaving the work force.
While the number of people working reached a historic high of 2,050,776 in April, the Palmetto State is growing jobs only at a rate of 1.8 percent to 1.9 percent.
“Technically, we have recovered,” said College of Charleston economist Frank Hefner. “It’s been five years since the recession officially ended. But this is no boom. And I think that this is going to be as good as it gets for the next couple of years.”
The unemployment rate dropped to 5.3 percent in April from 5.5 percent in March, according to data released Friday by the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce.
The labor force grew slightly for the month, but has declined by nearly 23,000 people since April 2013, suggesting some are giving up the job search in an uneven economic recovery. Those not working and not looking for work are not counted as unemployed.
But University of South Carolina economist Joey Von Nessen said the steady improvement in many areas of the economy – and new college graduates entering the job market – could boost the labor force over the next few months.
“That’s one of the things we’ll be monitoring – if (the stronger economy) will convince people to begin the job search again,” he said. “People have been leaving and that’s why we’ve seen the rate come down so quickly.”
South Carolina’s jobless rate has plunged to a 13-year low, far below its high of 11.9 percent in December 2009. And both Hefner and Von Nessen said they expect that rate to stay low in the near future.
“We are past the recovery and into a genuine expansion,” Von Nessen said. “More people are working in one-third of South Carolina counties than in 2007 when the recession began.”
The unemployment rate in March dropped in all of South Carolina’s 46 counties. Saluda County tied Lexington County for the lowest unemployment – 3.9 percent from 4.7 percent in April. Marion County had the highest rate at 9.5 percent, down from 10.4 percent in April.
The national unemployment rate was 6.3 percent in April.
Both Gov. Nikki Haley and her Democratic opponent state Sen. Vincent Sheheen of Camden were quick to weigh in.
“Getting our unemployment rate to a nearly 13-year low is something that every citizen of our state should be proud of and another strong sign that Team South Carolina’s approach to economic development is delivering real results,” Haley said in a press release.
Sheheen said in a release, “The economic reality in South Carolina is that average family income has shrunk under Gov. Haley, a staggering number of people have dropped out of the work force entirely, and families are struggling with falling wages.”
Over the past year, professional and business services have added 9,500 jobs; the leisure and hospitality industry, which typically offers lower paying and part-time work, added 9,100 jobs; and manufacturing increased by 7,300 jobs in the state.
Hefner and Von Nessen said the job growth, while slow, is broad based.
“We just have a slower growth rate (than before the recession) and we’re going to have to get used to that,” Hefner said.
Von Nessen added: “It reflects a steady trend. I’m optimistic going into the summer.”