April 18, 2014

S.C. employment rises for 10th straight month

York and Chester counties post slight gains in March while rate remains unchanged in Lancaster County.

South Carolina’s unemployment rate is continuing to fall, posting a drop for the 10th straight month.

The Department of Employment and Workforce said Friday that the state’s jobless rate was 5.5 percent in March, down from 5.7 percent in February.

Regionally the unemployment rate is slightly higher.

York County’s rate dropped to 6.7 percent in March, down from 6.9 percent in February. The unemployment rate in Rock Hill was 8.2 percent in February, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Data for the city’s employment rate are generally released a month later than the county’s rate.

Chester County, which saw its unemployment rate fall below 8 percent last month for the first time since 2001, again saw a slight decrease in March, hitting 7.4 percent from 7.8 percent.

The rate remained unchanged in Lancaster County at 6.3 percent.

The falling unemployment rate is partly explained by people dropping out of the labor force, not an overall improvement in the state’s economic picture, according to the state’s Board of Economic Advisors.

The percentage of working-age people in South Carolina who have a job – including part time – is actually going down, economist Robert Martin told the board on Thursday. South Carolina’s labor force participation rate has steadily shrunk since mid-2013, according to his charts using data from the U.S. Department of Labor.

“People are dropping out of the labor force for a number of reasons. What happens to the unemployment rate? It comes down and comes down fast,” he said.

Reasons include people retiring and being replaced by technology, he said.

The labor force in York, Chester and Lancaster counties, however, posted an increase in workers from February to March. York County’s labor force increased from 112,082 to 112,759. Chester County’s numbers rose from 14,492 to 14,623, and Lancaster County’s work force increased from 32,964 in February to 33,353 in March.

Lou Pantuosco, an economist at Winthrop University and member of the Board of Economic Advisors, said some of the local growth in the work force could be related to the construction industry. Statewide, more than 2,500 construction jobs were added in March. The Department of Employment and Workforce does not break down industry sector gains or losses by counties.

In anticipation of the summer tourist season, leisure and hospitality jobs were up by 800 last month. Professional and business services jobs also increased by 3,900.

Nationally, the unemployment rate was unchanged at 6.7 percent in March.

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