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S.C. jobless rate hits record 12.3%

South Carolina workers have come out of their summer break to seek jobs this fall, but they are not having much luck.

The state's jobless rate in November reached a new all-time monthly high of 12.3 percent as the number of people looking for work rose, while the number of jobs shrank, according to data released Friday by the S.C. Employment Security Commission.

Richland County's unemployment rate passed 10 percent last month for the first time since 1990, when county data was first collected, though the county's rate remains among the state's lowest. Neighboring Lexington County had South Carolina's lowest rate at 8.8 percent.

Many job seekers suspended their hunt during the summer to spend time with family, said Steve Rondone, an economist with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in Atlanta. The state's labor force, those working or looking for work, grew in November month-over-month for the first time since May, which is the end of the public school year.

Once school starts and the holidays approach, resumes start going out again, Rondone said.

"We knew these people would come back and look for work and will see that now," he said. "And from that, we'll see the (unemployment) rate continue to go up."

South Carolina's jobless rate could rise past 13 percent as early as next year, Coastal Carolina University economist Don Schunk said Friday.

Schunk and other university economists said at a conference this month that even though the recession is likely to end this fall, they don't expect to see a sharp recovery in jobs next year. South Carolina has shed 50,800 jobs from a year ago and nearly 95,200 jobs since December 2007, when the recession began.

The number of unemployed S.C. workers broke the all-time high mark, rising by 5,896 last month to 266,330.

The number of people who said they cannot find work nearly equals the combined population of the cities of Columbia, Charleston and Greenville.

"There's an unusually large number of people trying find temporary jobs for the holidays," Schunk said.

Also, recent good economic news, including North Charleston landing a Boeing jet assembly plant, will get people looking for work again - even if there are not enough jobs, he said.

South Carolina's jobless rate was tied for third-highest in the nation last month, trailing only Michigan's 14.7 percent and Rhode Island's 12.7 percent. South Carolina was tied with Nevada and California, two states where the two-year economic recession hit the hardest.

The state's jobless rate rose for a fourth straight month, adding 0.3 of a percentage point from a revised October rate of 12 percent, according to the commission data.

South Carolina lost 1,500 jobs in November after three months of increases as construction continued to shed jobs and leisure and hospitality let go of peak season staffing.

All other sectors added jobs last month over October. Government grew from school hiring and retail from holiday expansions, said Sam McClary, labor market analyst for the state Employment Security Commission.

In a small surprise, manufacturing jobs increased by 600 in November over October - rising month over month for just the second time in the past two years.

Some factories might have added workers to boost inventories for the holidays, McClary said.

But the spike is not expected to last as manufacturers are expected to continue cutting jobs when sales slow after the holidays, he said. The state has 24,500 fewer manufacturing jobs than a year ago, by far the biggest one-year decline among all employment sectors.

The U.S. unemployment rate stood at 10 percent in November, its second month in double figures for the first time in 26 years.

This week, state unemployment offices began taking claims from 26,000 South Carolinians who exhausted their benefits.

The agency is taking claims for a new 13-week extension, and offices will be open today to accommodate the rush of applicants. The latest extension of jobless benefits was approved by President Barack Obama in November.

Because of the state's high jobless rate, South Carolinians can get up to 99 weeks of benefits.

But the Senate must extend the Dec. 31 expiration for those extra jobless check programs. The House approved a two-month extension this week.

An estimated 3.2 million workers nationwide, including 77,000 in South Carolina, will exhaust their jobless benefits by the end of March if the deadline is not changed, according to a study by the National Employment Law Project.

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