South Carolina’s unemployment rate jumped in July after more than three years of decline.
The state’s jobless rate increased to 5.7 percent from 5.3 percent in June, according to the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce.
But that’s not necessarily bad news, economists say.
The labor force increased by 2,862 people in July and has been ticking up throughout the year, said Joseph Von Nessen, an economist with the University of South Carolina’s Moore School of Business.
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That means more people are looking for work now than in previous months. That is due largely to more economic stability and a broader recovery statewide, Von Nessen said.
“South Carolina is beginning to hit its stride,” he said.
The state’s economy has grown about 2 percent this year, which is comparable to pre-recession levels, he said. That leads to a confidence that encourages more people to seek jobs, he said.
“The fact that people are coming back into the labor force indicates that there’s more economic activity and more options,” he said.
Still, many in the state are stuck in low-paying, part-time jobs when they would rather have full-time employment, Von Nessen said. “That is one of the struggles that South Carolina still has.”
The number of unemployed South Carolinians grew by 9,124 to 124,670 during July, the state’s employment agency said. Meanwhile, the number of South Carolinians working dropped by 6,442 to 2,043,602.
The state’s jobless rate still is below the national rate, which increased to 6.2 percent in July from 6.1 percent in June.
The biggest decline in S.C. employment during July came in professional and business services, which lost 3,800 jobs from June; education and health services, which was down 1,700 jobs; and manufacturing, which fell by 1,000 jobs. The leisure and hospitality sector gained 1,000 jobs during the month.
Since July of last year, the leisure and hospitality sector has added 7,800 jobs while manufacturing has added 6,800. Other big gainers have been: professional and business services, up 5,800 jobs; education and health services, up 5,100; trade, transportation and utilities, up 4,800 jobs, and government and construction, up 2,100 and 1,400, respectively.
Cheryl M. Stanton, executive director of the state’s employment agency, said in a statement the state had plenty of reason to remain positive despite the increase.
“More than two million people are working in South Carolina, just below historic highs reached earlier this year,” she said. “Over the last year, more than 28,000 people have found work, and the state’s unemployment rate has declined by approximately 2 percentage points.”
Lexington and Saluda counties tied for the lowest jobless rate in the state at 5.1 percent, up from 4.7 percent and 4.9 percent, respectively, in June. Richland County’s jobless rate was 6.6 percent, up from 6 percent.
Bamberg County’s jobless rate was the highest in the state at 12.1 percent, up from 9.4 percent in June.
The Upstate has seen the biggest increase in jobs this year, primarily because of manufacturing, Von Nessen said. The Myrtle Beach area also has seen an increase in leisure and hospitality jobs fueled by increased consumer spending, an indication of economic stability, he said. Columbia’s recovery has not been concentrated in any one particular area, he said.
Von Nessen expects the jobless rate to remain fairly flat throughout the remainder of the year, only moving up or down slightly.
“We’ve seen such a huge decline in the unemployment rate over the past year or two,” he said. “That’s unrealistic going forward.”