South Carolina’s falling jobless rate is continuing its downward plunge.
The state’s unemployment rate dropped to 7.1 percent in November from 7.5 percent the previous month, the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce reported Friday. That continues the momentum from September and October, when the number of unemployed people dropped below 8 percent for the first time in five years.
Also, last month was the first time the state’s jobless rate reached within 0.1 percent of the national rate, now at 7 percent, in more than a decade.
“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas,” said College of Charleston economist Frank Hefner. “The real good news is that … we’re getting a 1.8 percent growth rate in jobs. It’s what was expected by most economists. The 1.8 is a solid number and it’s what we expect next year.”
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But the drop comes as the labor force continues to shrink, meaning more people are dropping out of the job hunt. Since last November, nearly 20,000 people in South Carolina have found work, and 14,683 have stopped looking.
“The labor force has been fickle all year,” said University of South Carolina economist Joey Von Nessen. “It’s been up and down. So we need to be a bit cautious about the unemployment rate because part of that drop is from a drop in the labor force.”
But he, too, said the 1.8 percent job growth rate was solid.
“It shows we are gaining momentum,” Von Nessen said.
Hefner said another good sign was that the gains are statewide.
“The preponderance of counties saw a drop in the jobless rate,” he said. “It wasn’t just the usual growth in Greenville and Charleston.”
Only four of the state’s 46 counties saw increases in their unemployment rate last month – Orangeburg, Bamberg, Calhoun and Horry. But even the state’s most job-thirsty county – Marion – saw its jobless rate drop a full percentage point in November to 13.1 percent from 14.1 percent.
Lexington County had the best rate in the state; it dropped to 5.2 percent from 5.7 percent in October. Richland County’s rate decreased to 6.2 percent from 6.9 percent.
The jobless rate has fallen a full percentage point in the past three months and is gaining on the national jobless rate, which declined to 7 percent in November from 7.3 percent the previous month. November was the first time in 11 years South Carolina’s jobless rate has been this close to the national rate, the department said.
Non-farm employment in South Carolina grew by 4,600 over October to 1,907,100. It was the sixth over-the-month increase since May 2013.
“This piggy-backs with the gains we’ve had all year,” Von Nessen said. “And it puts us in a good position to continue the momentum of 2014.”
Overall, more than 2 million South Carolinians are employed, the highest level since July 2008.
“Today’s great news is another testament to our people, our state, and the hard work that has made progress like this possible,” Gov. Nikki Haley said in a statement. “The fact that people and companies want to work and grow in South Carolina is no accident – it’s what happens when you combine a dedicated work force with a strong business environment – and that is a real reason to celebrate.”
The largest gains in jobs over October were 1,800 in the government sector, 1,300 in leisure and hospitality and 1,100 in educational and health services. Since November 2012, professional and business services has grown by 7,000 jobs; trade, transportation and utilities by 6,300; construction by 4,800; and leisure and hospitality by 4,700.
Hefner predicted more good news in the coming year, noting that the national gross domestic product grew in the third quarter to 4.1 percent.
“That’s a really good growth rate for the nation,” he said. “We are participating with that rising tide.”