There may be a few more glimmers of hope in the jobs market.
Job seekers in Columbia got a boost Thursday as national reports showed an improvement in the number of people seeking unemployment.
A job fair for undergraduate business students at USC and a new social and mobile media effort sponsored by the city are attempting to bring jobs to the more than 31,000 unemployed residents in the Columbia metropolitan area.
The unemployment rate in the metro area dropped to 8.4 percent in August from 8.6 percent the previous month even as the statewide rate remained stuck at 9.6 percent.
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Nationally, the jobless rate dropped to 8.1 percent last month from 8.3 percent in July as people dropped out of the job market. The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits plunged 26,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 359,000, a hopeful sign for the job market. It’s the lowest level of weekly applications in nine weeks.
The Labor Department said Thursday that the four-week average, a less volatile measure, declined 4,500 to 374,000. That’s the first drop in six weeks. Weekly unemployment applications are a measure of the pace of layoffs. When they consistently fall below 375,000, it typically indicates that hiring is strong enough to lower the unemployment rate.
Other recent data have shown that layoffs have fallen to the lowest level in a decade. But hiring hasn’t picked up enough to quickly lower the unemployment rate.
U.S. employers added only 96,000 jobs last month, below the 141,000 in July and much lower than the average 226,000 added in the first three months of the year.
In Columbia, the University of South Carolina job fair drew 60 Fortune 500 companies, more than double the total that attended last year, according to university officials.
That reflects an improving economy that is making companies eager to hire again after retrenching, said Georgia Doran, director of career management at USC’s Moore School of Business.
“Companies are ready again,” she said.
Madison Byron was among more than 1,000 USC business students looking to make connections at the job fair. She hopes those contacts eventually will lead to employment when she graduates next spring.
Meeting so many recruiters at once can be “a little intimidating” but provides insights into what may be the best fit for her training in retail management, she said.
Meanwhile, the city launched a new partnership with TweetMyJobs that allows local businesses to post their available jobs for free and allows job seekers to sign up for notifications on social media or via text message, making Columbia the first city in the Carolinas to use the new service.
“Famously Hot Jobs” is a $50,000 imitative paid for by the city of Columbia.
“We have enough jobs available right now to cut our unemployment rate by a third,” Mayor Steve Benjamin said in a statement.
But job growth nationally isn’t expected to get much better for the rest of this year. Economists expect the economy to grow at a roughly 2 percent pace. That’s typically too weak to create enough jobs to lower the unemployment rate.
A survey of chief executives, released Wednesday, found a sharp drop in the number of large companies that plan to step up hiring or boost investment in the next six months. They cited worries over tax and budget policies in the United States and slower growth in Europe and China for the gloomier outlook.
However some recent indicators have been more optimistic. Consumer confidence jumped to a seven-month high in September, the Conference Board said Tuesday. Home prices are rising steadily nationwide. And sales of new homes remained near a two-year high in August, the Commerce Department said Wednesday.
The September jobs report will be released next week.
“The economy overall has only weak forward momentum,” Nigel Gault, chief U.S. economist at IHS Global Insight, said in a note to clients. “The news from housing may be improving, but manufacturing is struggling now.”
Staff writers Tim Flach and Kristy Eppley Rupon and The Associated Press contributed.