You don’t have to be an economist to know that the unemployment rate is a crucial measure of collective prosperity.

And you don’t have to be an optimist to know that the remarkable decline in South Carolina’s unemployment rate — from 11.9 percent in January 2010 to 7.5 percent last month — is welcome proof that times have gotten considerably better in our state.

Over that same period, the U.S. jobless rate has also fallen — just not nearly so much, from 9.7 percent in January 2010 to 7.3 percent last month.

In other words, as Gov. Nikki Haley put it last week, “We’re rapidly gaining on the national average.”

This is the closest our state’s unemployment rate has been to the national level since September 2002, when Jim Hodges was governor of South Carolina, Steve Spurrier was head coach of the Washington Redskins and Dabo Swinney was in the real estate business in Alabama.

October’s tri-county jobless rates are even better than the state’s 7. 5 percent: Charleston County, 5.8 percent; Berkeley County, 6.5 percent; Dorchester County, 6.0 percent.

Of course, 7.5 percent statewide unemployment is still a painfully high figure. Plus, as with the national rate, that statistic doesn’t include the far too many people who have given up on finding work and are no longer counted as part of the labor force.

Still, South Carolina’s jobs picture is clearly much brighter than it was just a few years ago. And it could get even brighter soon.

As reported in Saturday’s Post and Courier, Boeing said North Charleston is among the “more than a dozen” sites that it has invited to submit bids to become a production site for the company’s new 777X long-haul jet.

Boeing already has other expansion plans here related to its 787 Dreamliner facility.

Numerous other companies, big and small, have been expanding their S.C. operations, too, adding jobs in the thriving process.

That’s not the result of mere chance. Gov. Haley, Commerce Department Secretary Bobby Hitt and his staff, state legislators, local elected officials and our congressional delegation have been working hard to bring good jobs to South Carolina.

The availability of a skilled, mostly non-union work force is another major selling point in the ongoing economic-development competition with other states — and nations.

So the No. 6 Clemson Tigers and No. 10 South Carolina Gamecocks aren’t the only teams on winning streaks as they head into Saturday night’s showdown in Columbia.

And when it comes to improving our state’s economy, lowering the unemployment rate remains Job One.