South Carolina’s unemployment rate is one of the lowest amid the nation’s Southeast region, according to a report released Friday.

Wages to keep rising

The Center for Business Research, part of Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, released the 2013 Charleston Metro Area Wage and Benefits Survey. The report surveyed 55 local companies about wages, benefits and workforce challenges.

Key findings:

Pay increases: The majority of firms expect to give roughly the same pay increase to employees next year as they did last year, which is 2-3%

Workforce challenges: At least half of manufacturers and non-manufacturing firms specified hard skills/technical skills and industry knowledge as their key workforce challenge.

Medical insurance plans: The most popular plan among all responding firms is the PPO.

Impact of Affordable Care Act (ACA): Thirty-two percent reported no noticeable impact thus far and 49% do not expect noticeable impact. Conversely, 34% of respondents predict future reductions in company-paid insurance coverage and 5% of respondents have reduced employee hours and/or number of employees.

Cost of benefits: The majority of firms reported the cost of benefits to be in the range of 31% to 40% of total compensation costs.

Source: Center for Business Research/Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce

The S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce reported the state’s unemployment rate was 7.5 percent in October, dropping to its lowest level since September 2008. The Palmetto State’s October rate was down 0.4 percent from 7.9 percent in September and 8.8 percent in October 2012.

By the numbers

County unemployment rate breakdown

Charleston County

Oct. 2013 5.8%

Sept. 2013 6.0%

Oct. 2012 6.7%

Berkeley County

Oct. 2013 6.5%

Sept. 2013 6.8%

Oct. 2012 7.6%

Dorchester County

Oct. 2013 6.0%

Sept. 2013 6.4%

Oct. 2012 7.0%

Source: S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce

The number of those jobless was 162,613, falling 7,457, while those employed increased 3,465 to a level of 1,994,349. The labor force fell 3,992 to 2,156,962 in October, according to the agency’s data.

The national unemployment rate for October was estimated at 7.3 percent, up slightly from September’s rate of 7.2 percent.

South Carolina’s October unemployment rate ranked 31st amid the nation’s 50 states. North Dakota ranked first with 2.7 percent joblessness. The unemployment rate declined in 28 states last month.

In the Southeast, South Carolina ranked better than neighboring states such as Georgia, which posted 8.1 percent unemployment, Tennessee at 8.4 and North Carolina at 8.0 percent for October. Among the lowest jobless rates for states in the region were Alabama and Louisiana, both at 6.5 percent for October.

South Carolina’s largest employment gains included 2,600 additional jobs in manufacturing and 1,800 in construction.

College of Charleston economist Frank Hefner said the latest data is encouraging news for the jobs market.

“Back to the past, that’s where we are,” he said. “We are trying to make up for five years of lost activity, and we are getting back to those levels.”

Hefner said there will be some seasonal hiring in November and December with retailers adding workers for the holiday season.

“If it continues growing jobs in transportation, manufacturing and tourism along with retail, that will be a very positive sign and that’s what we are looking for,” Hefner said. “We already expect to see the gains in retail, but we need to see the other sides do it also.”

The unemployment rate for the Charleston metro area was 6.0 percent in October, down from 6.3 percent in September and 7.0 percent in Oct. 2012, according to data.

Charleston County marked the lowest unemployment rate for the tri-county region with 5.8 percent in October, down 0.2 percent from 6.0 in September and 6.7 percent in October 2012.

Rural Marion County in the Pee Dee region had the highest jobless level, at 14.1 percent. Lexington County in the Midlands had the lowest, at 5.7 percent.

Gov. Nikki Haley applauded Friday’s jobless report for the state, saying there “will be a bigger push to put people back to work.”

“Considering the unemployment rate crossed 11 percent just three years ago, everyone in the state should be proud of the fact that we’re at 7.5 percent and rapidly gaining on the national average,” she said in a written statement. “But the truth is we’re just getting started.”

Reach Tyrone Richardson at 937-5550 and follow him on Twitter @tyrichardsonPC.