S.C. unemployment rate rises for first time in 10 months
Retired Air Force Staff Sgt. Jeff Graham worked a safety training job until last month when the position was eliminated.
Between severance pay and military benefits, he's getting by for now. But Graham, 40, has worked all of his life and has five children, so for the past three weeks, he's been looking for a new job.
Click here for an interactive graphic about state jobless rates.
He was doing that and looking after the kids Friday at the Trident SC Works Center in North Charleston.
“I'm a little bit different than the average looker, because if I don't find (a job), I'll still eat, whereas some people don't,” Graham said. “I say this is my first time being unemployed since I was 13 years old.”
Graham is one of thousands of South Carolinians who lost their jobs in May, the first month since last summer that saw an increase in the state unemployment rate.
According to figures released Friday by the state Department of Employment and Workforce, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate ticked up to 9.1 percent in May from 8.8 percent in April.
That's because more people entered the labor force, according to the agency. While the number of employed people decreased by 3,886 to 1,957,360, the number of unemployed people in South Carolina increased by 5,861 to 195,905.
York and Marlboro were the only counties in South Carolina that saw a decrease in unemployment between April and May.
Still, Charleston economist Stephen Slifer cautioned against reading too much into “these monthly wiggles,” even if last month's was the first in the opposite direction in 10 months.
“I think the thing that's important here is the unemployment rate, nationally or locally, is continuing to decline,” said Slifer, the longtime chief U.S. economist for Lehman Brothers until he retired and formed his consultancy, NumberNomics. “It never does this at a steady pace ... but the trend is there.”
While the state unemployment rate rose, so did the number of jobs, mostly in the areas of trade transportation and utilities; professional and business services; and leisure and hospitality. Total non-farm employment has risen by 21,400 jobs since May 2011, according to DEW.
Nationally, the unemployment rate increased slightly to 8.2 percent in May from 8.1 percent in April, erasing the previous month-over-month gain. About 642,000 people entered the labor force last month.
The jobless rate for the Charleston region increased even more dramatically, jumping to 7.9 percent in May from 7 percent the previous month. Other metro areas in the state also saw sharp increases in unemployment.
Slifer said the mild winter meant spending and hiring were higher than they otherwise would have been and thus there wasn't the usual bump with the arrival of spring.
He noted the decline in defense spending but said he isn't concerned the pending sequestration, or across-the-board budget cuts, because he expects Congress won't let it happen.
“I guess my expectation would be as we move into the second half that things will look a little bit better. And I think that's true here and nationally,” Slifer said. “Nothing in here is suggesting to me that we're dealing with some sort of sharply curtailed spending and GDP growth for any period of time.”
That would be good news for Tiara Mayweathers, who was also at the Trident SC Works Center on Friday.
Mayweathers, 22, works at Walmart, but she's trying to find something better, preferably in the medical field. She's taking classes through the Workforce Investment Act at the Hanahan Road center while she looks.
“It's hard as hell to find a job,” she said.
Thad Moore contributed to this report.