S.C. comeback might be slow

While the recession technically may be ending, South Carolinians are unlikely to feel better about their pocketbooks and jobs for years.

The state's already high unemployment rate, for example, may inch a few percentage points higher next fiscal year.

That's the consensus of about a dozen S.C. economists who appeared before the state's Board of Economic Advisors Wednesday.

The board will take into consideration the economists' opinions as it prepares its revenue forecast for the state's 2010-'11 budget, which takes effect next July.

"People say the deeper the recession, the faster recovery," Frank Hefner, a College of Charleston economist, told the group.

"That's just not going to happen this time. (This recession) is so qualitatively different."

A majority of the economists advised the board that:

- State revenue will remain relatively flat at about $5.75 billion next fiscal year. A couple of the economists said revenue may fall slightly.

- The state's unemployment rate, now nearly 12 percent, will inch up higher next year before beginning a slow decline.

The state's real jobless rate - taking into account discouraged workers who have stopped looking for jobs and those who have exhausted their unemployment benefits - is about 20 percent, said Don Schunk, a research economist at Coastal Carolina University.

It could hit 24 percent next fiscal year, Schunk said, then slowly start to come down.

The one bit of positive news is the nation's financial markets and institutions have stabilized.

"That seems to be the only silver lining," said Don Herriott, head of Pee Dee-based Roche Carolina and a member of the Economic Advisers.

"It sounds like we won't see the jobs coming back for two to four years."