Buoyed by South Carolina’s No. 1 industry, tourism, the state’s unemployment rate plummeted to a five-year low of 8 percent in April.
The drop from 8.4 percent in March marked the largest month-to-month decrease in more than 25 years. It’s the lowest jobless rate in the state since October 2008.
State officials hailed the sharp decline as a sign that the economy is starting to get a solid footing and is closing in on the national jobless rate of 7.5 percent.
“This drop in unemployment is yet another piece of great news for South Carolina,” Gov. Nikki Haley said. “There’s no doubt that South Carolina is on the move again.”
The biggest job gains came from leisure and hospitality as the state’s tourism season cranked up with warmer weather. The sector added 8,700 jobs, primarily at hotels and food service businesses.
Also notable was that construction firms added 1,200 workers, reflecting the strengthening residential real estate market.
Most other sectors did well too, but manufacturing lost 900 jobs.
The number of employed people increased by 2,935 from March to April to slightly more than 1.99 million, marking the 10th consecutive monthly increase in people finding work across the state, according to the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce.
“Given this trend, it’s very good news,” College of Charleston economist Frank Hefner said.
He warned that the state rate could go up in May and June as graduates flood the labor market, but he added that the Charleston region, with a jobless rate a full 2 percentage points lower than the state average, should be able to absorb most of those as the hospitality and building industries continue to grow.
“Tourism is on a roll, and housing seems to be improving,” Hefner said. “The usual suspects for an economic recovery for our area all look very, very solid.”
He also pointed out how painful it has been to claw back from the deep recession.
There are 15,000 fewer jobs in the state than there were in April 2008, when South Carolina’s jobless rate was 5.7 percent.
“It’s one more confirmation of how this recession has been,” Hefner said. “We are inching our way to a solid economy. These gains are good, but we just don’t have the strength yet. It will take another year to get where we were five or six years ago.”
All 46 counties in the state had decreases in unemployment rates. Rural Marion County in the Pee Dee region reported the highest jobless level of 15 percent, while Lexington County in the Midlands showed the lowest unemployment rate at 5.7 percent.
Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.