Things are looking up for the unemployed in South Carolina.
The state's unemployment rate fell significantly in November to 7.1 percent, down from 7.5 percent in October, according to a report released Friday by the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce.
It's the fourth monthly decline in a row this year, and marks the closest South Carolina's unemployment rate has come to matching the national average in nearly 12 years.
National unemployment also declined last month to 7 percent, down from 7.3 percent in October.
South Carolina ranked No. 30 in states' unemployment rates, above its neighbors Georgia and North Carolina.
"The report says 'Merry Christmas.' It's a great Christmas gift to have unemployment rate that low," said College of Charleston economist Frank Hefner. "Now we're getting to where we've almost hit pre-recession levels of jobs."
Gov. Nikki Haley issued a response to the report Friday morning.
"The fact that people and companies want to work and grow in South Carolina is no accident - it's what happens when you combine a dedicated workforce with a strong business environment - and that is a real reason to celebrate," she said.
The report is on par with The University of South Carolina's economic outlook report released earlier this month, which predicted job growth to increase by 1.7 percent next year.
More than 2 million people now have jobs in South Carolina, the strongest employment rate since July 2008.
The largest job gains last month were in government, with 1,800 new hires, and hospitality and leisure industries, which added 1,300 jobs.
Hospitality and tourism have been on the upswing across the state in recent years, which has been key to the state's overall comeback from the recession, according to Duane Parrish, director of the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism.
Hotel room sales, admissions to state parks and other tourism-related factors have now met and even surpassed pre-recession levels of 2007, according to reports by the department.
The Greenville and Charleston regions, which have seen a proliferation of restaurants and hotels over the past few years, tied last month for the smallest unemployment rate in the state, which was 5.5 percent.
While the report is mostly good news, it also means fewer people are applying for available jobs, Hefner said.
Since November 2012, the unemployment rate has declined by 1.5 percent and 19,991 people have landed jobs. However, the labor force declined by nearly 15,000 workers over the past year, according to the employment report.
"We're getting positive job growth and then we're seeing people dropping out of the workforce," Hefner said. "But not to put too negative of a spin on it. The job growth is positive, and it's what we need."
Though the job growth rate of 1.7 isn't "fantastic," Hefner said the outlook for the unemployed in South Carolina in 2014 is positive.
Reach Abigail Darlington at 937-5906 and follow her on Twitter @A_Big_Gail
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