Jobless rates in York, Chester and Lancaster counties had significant drops in April thanks to an ongoing, gradual increase in hiring, giving employment officials hope that the summer will bring more good news.
The S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce reported Friday that York County's unemployment rate was at 15.8 percent last month, down from a revised 16.3 percent in March.
Chester County's rate dropped more than 1.5 percentage points in April to land at 18.3 percent, while Lancaster County saw the area's largest drop, recording a jobless rate of 16.2 percent last month after a rate of 18 percent in March.
The new numbers seem to indicate that local employers continue to gain confidence in the economy, said Annie Reid, director of the Rock Hill Workforce Center.
"There's nothing big that's happening; it's just a few more people are hiring," Reid said, adding that she was surprised York County's drop - half a percentage point - was so dramatic.
"But I'm happy," she said.
Chester County's rate dropped for the second straight month, giving the community a morale boost, said Travis George, director of the Chester Workforce Center.
Some local plants have begun hiring again and George said he expects to see the traditional bump in new jobs that happens during the summer. As with York County, it's been a gradual pick-up in hiring in Chester that has chipped away at the number of unemployed people, George said.
"Hopefully the economy's getting better," he said.
The mood is similarly hopeful in Lancaster County, said Glenda Parkman, director of the Lancaster Workforce Center.
"Things are looking up," she said, also noting surprise at the steep decline of that county's jobless rate.
Parkman expected a decrease because a lot of former clients have called to say they've returned to work. But it's hard to say whether the nearly two-percentage-point drop means rates will continue downward, she said.
"We really won't know until we see the numbers next month," Parkman said. "Wishful thinking, I'm hoping they'll continue to drop."
News of the drops comes on the heels of recently announced plans by several companies to bring more jobs to the area.
This week, a Canadian metal company said it would bring 200 jobs to York County over the next five years, while the owner of the Haile Gold Mine in rural Lancaster County has said it will add 800 jobs in the coming years. Meanwhile, a window and door maker announced last month it would bring 125 jobs to Chester County over the next year.
Statewide, the unemployment rate declined for the third straight month. The 11.6 percent rate in April was down from 12.2 percent in March, the employment agency reports.
According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, South Carolina's labor force - the sum of the employed and unemployed - declined by 6,272 in April to 2,167,544. The drop was because fewer people lost their jobs in April and fewer people were looking for work, the state agency says.
Most major industries saw hiring increases last month. Seasonal gains, mostly tourist-related, were recorded in retail, leisure and hospitality and professional and business services.
Government posted a gain of 1,900 jobs and manufacturing registered a slight gain of 500 jobs. But declines were seen in construction jobs, as well as in the educational and health services.
The national jobless rate increased slightly in April to 9.9 percent.