With summer vacations looming, more South Carolinians found work at hotels and restaurants in the state’s growing tourism sector in April, pushing South Carolina’s jobless rate to a near five-year low.
South Carolina’s jobless rate plunged to 8 percent from 8.4 percent in March, the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce said Friday.
“We’re almost respectable now,” said Mark Vitner, a senior economist for Wells Fargo.
Over the past year, the state’s unemployment rate has fallen almost twice as fast as the national jobless rate, now 7.5 percent.
“We’ve done it by adding jobs,” Vitner said, rather than having would-be workers quit looking for jobs. While the state’s labor force dropped by more than 5,000 in April, it stands about where it was a year ago – a sign that people are finding work, Vitner said.
The drop in the unemployment rate between March and April was the largest monthly decrease in the state since May 1987 – when a gallon of gas cost 89 cents and “Cheers” was among the most popular shows on television.
“This drop in unemployment is yet another piece of great news for South Carolina,” Gov. Nikki Haley said in a statement. “Our outstanding companies, our loyal and dedicated workforce, and our competitive business environment have our economy turning again. There’s no doubt that South Carolina is on the move, and we couldn’t be more excited about the great things in store for our state.”
While the leisure-and-hospitality industry gained 8,700 jobs between March and April – more than half of the total of 15,100 jobs added – the state is seeing job gains in nearly every sector.
“We’re adding (jobs) consistently,” said Joseph Von Nessen, an economist with the University of South Carolina’s Moore School.
A key part of the recovery is the construction industry, which accounts for about 15 percent of the state’s gross domestic product, Von Nessen said.
Construction recently has been showing year-over-year employment gains – adding 3,000 jobs between April 2012 and April 2013 – for the first time since 2007, before the housing market went bust, Von Nessen said.
“You can’t have a full recovery without the housing market being a part of that,” he said.
Financial services – which includes real estate agents, bankers and insurance agents – also is benefitting from the improving housing market, gaining 4,100 jobs between April 2012 and April 2013.
“The mix of jobs is pretty good in South Carolina,” Vitner said.
Still, South Carolina is dealing with some issues that are happening nationwide:
Some of the growth in restaurant hiring likely is related to owners reducing hours for some employees and hiring more part-time workers to avoid having to provide health insurance under the new federal health-care law, Vitner said.
Many workers still are struggling with underemployment, taking lower paying jobs than they had before the recession and hoping to get better jobs as the economy improves.
Chiefly because of the rise in lower paying jobs, Vitner added, “I’m not going to feel comfortable about the South Carolina unemployment rate until we see it under 5 percent.”
The last time the jobless rate was that low was April 2001 – five months before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
But the rate is steadily heading downward.
Three counties already are below 6 percent, including Lexington with its lowest-in-the-state jobless rate of 5.7 percent. And only 13 of the state’s 46 counties have double-digit jobless rates, the highest – 15 percent – in Marion County. Richland County’s jobless rate was 7 percent.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Von Nessen said. “We’re getting there.”
SC jobless rate ‘by the numbers’
S.C.’s jobless rate in April, down from 8.4 percent in March and 9.3 percent a year earlier. The rate was 5.5 percent in December 2007, when the Great Recession officially began.
The number of jobs added in the state’s leisure-and-hospitality industry between April 2012 and April 2013, reflecting an increase in consumer spending on restaurant meals and vacations.