South Carolina Unemployment Ticks Upward in Tight Labor Market

Richard Breen

Tuesday, January 9th, 2018

South Carolina’s unemployment was a notch higher in November in what experts are calling an otherwise tight labor market.

The November jobless rate was 4.0 in November, according to the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce. That figure was 3.9 percent in September and October and 4.0 in August.

The number of South Carolinians working decreased by 2,451 in November, while the number of unemployed increased by 1,648. South Carolina’s total workforce is 2.3 million.

During the University of South Carolina’s annual Economic Outlook Conference, Cheryl Stanton, SCDEW’s executive director, pointed out that there were 60,000 open jobs in South Carolina in October. With unemployment hovering around 4 percent – many economists consider that to be “full employment” – the challenge for Stanton’s agency has been to find willing workers for existing job openings.

“We have identified what we refer to as priority populations,” Stanton told the USC audience. Those groups include ex-military, ex-offenders, the homeless, and at-risk youth.

Dr. Joseph Von Nessen, a research economist with the Darla Moore School of Business at USC, told the audience that job openings are the sign of a healthy labor market, “especially if you’re a worker.”

“The labor market in South Carolina is more favorable to workers than at any time in the last eight years,” he said. “Employers are having to provide stronger incentives, such as higher wages, to attract and retain the workers they need.”

Von Nessen said South Carolina will need to find ways to recruit more workers to the state.

“Labor availability will be the bottleneck of economic growth in 2018,” he said.

One in-state solution could be the number of military who retire from South Carolina’s many installations, according to Von Nessen.

“They’re coming out in their 40s and 50s with skills they can apply to the private sector,” he said.

Stanton said her agency is working with ex-military on better explaining their experiences in terms the business community can understand.

“They describe what they did in military jargon,” she said.

The number of South Carolinians working in November decreasing by more than the number of unemployed increasing, along with thousands of unfilled jobs, could indicate a continued decline in labor force participation, which has worried some experts nationally.

“Labor force participation has been declining since 2007,” Von Nessen said, but added, “it’s not as negative as you would otherwise think.”

He said that while the overall rate remains down (it was 62.7 percent in November, compared to 66.4 percent in January 2007), it has rebounded among those in their prime working years (ages 25-64).

It could simply be a matter of baby boomers retiring at a faster rate than young people entering the workforce. For those younger workers, the state has beefed up apprenticeship programs.

Stanton said apprenticeship grants cost the state $1,816 on average but apprentices made around $11,000 in earnings while getting on-the-job training that led to full-time employment.

The state is also promoting its Quick Jobs program, which uses short courses to get workers qualified for occupations that are in high demand.

“The big thing we’re emphasizing right now is getting people in the door,” Stanton said, with the understanding that entry-level jobs in areas such as health care can lead to additional training and movement up the job ladder.

Other highlights from the November jobs report:

  • Charleston County had the lowest jobless rate, steady at 3.1 percent.

  • Fairfield County’s rate fell to 9.1 percent from 9.4 percent but was still the state’s highest.

  • Orangeburg County’s rate fell the most, down to 6.3 percent from 7.0 percent.

  • Dillon County’s rate rose the most, up to 5.5 percent from 5.1 percent.

  • Metro area unemployment rates were 3.3 percent in Charleston, 3.5 percent in Greenville, 4.0 percent in Columbia and 4.5 percent in Florence.

Unemployment Situation: