South Carolina's jobs woes deepened at the start of the year and will likely get worse before they get better, economists say.
The state's unemployment rate reached a new high in January at 12.6 percent, up from a revised 12.4 percent in December, the S.C. Employment Security Commission said Wednesday.
The number of jobs statewide was down 27,700 from December, 42,800 from January 2009 and 172,400 from the recession's start in December 2007.
Economists offered little hope for a quick recovery beyond an expected boom in construction after a colder-than-usual winter across the South.
"The worst is not over," said Sam McClary, a labor analyst for the employment commission.
There are some recent signs that employment might improve.
More Columbia-area and South Carolina businesses anticipate adding workers from April through June than earlier in the year, according to the Manpower Employment Outlook Survey released this week.
And the number of U.S. job openings in January rose to a near yearlong high, the Labor Department said this week.
While consensus among economists is that the recession ended in the fall, many also agree that effects of the worst downturn since the Great Depression will be felt for another year or more.
South Carolina's unemployment rate is expected to pass 13 percent this year.
That could happen, in part, because signs of economic improvement will draw out frustrated job seekers who stopped looking for work. Unemployment rates count only those actively looking for jobs.
The number of South Carolinians looking for work rose by 4,600 in January over December, which accounted for the rise in the unemployment rate.
The jobless ranks typically grow after New Year's when companies shed temporary holiday help or reduce payrolls to meet annual budget goals.
The biggest job losses for the month were in retail, which dropped 7,700 jobs, state employment officials said.
Mass layoffs in South Carolina hit yearlong highs in January, reaching nearly 7,300, according to U.S. Labor Department data. That was not far off the mass layoff totals for the final three months of 2009 combined.
South Carolina had the nation's fourth-highest unemployment rate in January. The national jobless rate was 9.7 percent in January and February.
Almost all major employment categories lost jobs in January versus December, including government - a staple of the Midlands.
But manufacturing job losses appear to be slowing.
Manufacturing employment, which has posted the biggest losses in the state over the past year, changed little compared with December and has remained steady since the summer.
But McClary said signs are pointing downward for manufacturing as increased retail sales have not translated into more jobs in South Carolina.
As a result, the state's economic recovery likely will lag compared with the rest of the country, he said.
In 2009, South Carolina had the nation's third-highest jobless rate at 11.7 percent, according to U.S. Labor Department data. Only Michigan and Nevada were higher.
Construction continued to shed workers as jobs shrank by an additional 1,700 in January, according to S.C. employment data. Construction jobs have shrunk 27 of the past 28 months in South Carolina.
That could change in coming months as the brutal winter ends and allows for road paving, said Steve Rondone, an economist with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in Atlanta.
"As soon as the weather breaks, those folks will be back to work," he said.
Columbia continues to have South Carolina's lowest jobless rate among major cities.
The Midlands posted the state's only single-digit rate at 9.8 percent in December, the latest data available.
Rates in other state metro areas ranged from Charleston's 10.2 percent to Myrtle Beach's 14.8 percent.
The Columbia region gets a boost from having two counties with among the state's smallest jobless rates.
Lexington County posted South Carolina's lowest rate of 9.4 percent in January. Richland County was tied for third smallest at 10.6 percent.
Allendale County had the state's highest unemployment rate at 24.3 percent.