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Unemployment jumps in S.C.

COLUMBIA -- South Carolina's 8.4 percent unemployment rate was the nation's third-highest in November, the S.C. Employment Security Commission reported Friday.

York County's rate jumped along with the state's, moving up to 8.2 percent in November from 7.7 percent in October. That's up from 5.4 percent a year ago.

Chester and Lancaster counties also saw increased rates -- with Chester's 13.5 percent rate the sixth-highest in the state and Lancaster's 12.2 percent the 10th-highest.

As the state's unemployment rate continues to sit at a 25-year high, economists do not expect the upward trend to end in 2009.

"There's no question the unemployment rate will go higher," USC economist Doug Woodward said.

The state lost 11,900 jobs during November, compared to October. South Carolina has 42,800 fewer jobs than a year ago.

Even holiday hiring couldn't give the numbers a lift as retailers hired far fewer workers this year than in previous Christmas seasons.

South Carolina is following the national trend for unemployment as companies cut jobs and overall economic investment declines. All indications are those trends will continue through 2009.

New jobless claims in South Carolina rose to 40,777 in November, up 46 percent from a year ago, said Sam McClary, the employment commission's labor market analyst. Statewide, 182,900 of 2.2 million workers are unemployed.

The state unemployment rate last month was 7.9 percent, and it was 6.1 percent in November 2007, the commission reported.

Nationally, the November unemployment rate was 6.7 percent, with Michigan and Rhode Island recording the worst rates. South Carolina was tied with California.

The latest unemployment trends were reported as Gov. Mark Sanford and the employment commission bicker over management of the state fund that pays unemployment checks.

The fund, which is supported by a tax on businesses, is running low. Ted Halley, the employment commission's executive director, said the state needs a federal loan to continue paying claims.

Sanford has refused to request a loan and has accused the commission of mismanaging the fund.

Meanwhile, those experiencing joblessness first hand say it is nearly impossible to find work.

'It's hard' finding a job

On Wednesday, 26-year-old Calvin Hall was one of nearly 500 people applying for 100 positions at a Lowe's that will open next year in Columbia.

Hall is one of 60,000 South Carolinians who receives a weekly unemployment check. He was laid off from his job as a maintenance worker at Allen University in March after the school hired a private contractor to do the work.

Since then, Hall estimates he has applied for more than 70 jobs.

"It's hard," he said with a heavy sigh.

But Hall held out hope for the Lowe's opportunity.

"I've seen them building the new Lowe's, and I've been waiting," he said. "I can stock, load and unload, drive a forklift. I can do some heavy leg work."

Earlier this month, the S.C. Board of Economic Advisors predicted the state's unemployment rate could reach 14 percent before the recession ends.

However, Woodward and McClary believe that estimate is too high.

Since World War II, South Carolina's unemployment rate has not risen above 12 percent, Woodward said. That was during the recession in the early 1980s.

However, economists don't have an economic model to follow during the current recession, he said.

"There's a continuing set of surprises coming out of Wall Street that are spilling over into the real economy," he said.

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