Jobless rate by county

Charleston County

Dec. 2013: 5.0%

Nov. 2013: 5.2%

Dec. 2012: 6.8%

Berkeley County

Dec. 2013: 5.5%

Nov. 2013: 5.9%

Dec. 2012: 7.5%

Dorchester County

Dec. 2013: 5.3%

Nov. 2013: 5.7%

Dec. 2012: 7.0%

S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce

South Carolina's unemployment rate has been higher than the national average for more than a decade.

That is, until the end of 2013.

December marked the first month since January 2001 that the Palmetto State's jobless figure has been lower than the U.S. rate.

It was close: The state's jobless rate was 6.6 percent last month, a hair lower than the 6.7 percent U.S. average, the Department of Employment and Workforce said Tuesday.

South Carolina was among 30 states that reported a dip in unemployment in December.

Officials noted that more than 2 million South Carolina residents were employed at the end of last year, the highest level since January 2008.

Gov. Nikki Haley said in a statement that the latest monthly jobs report shows "we are moving in the right direction."

The Lowcountry continued to outperform the state as whole. The unemployment rate for the Charleston region was 5.2 percent in December, down from 5.4 percent in November.

Steve Slifer, a Charleston-based economist and owner of NumberNomics, said the receding rate is expected to continue at a "gradual" pace this year.

He added that Boeing's presence in the region and plans for growth at local companies like Daniel Island-based technology firm Benefitfocus continue to move the needle.

"There is a lot tech and non-tech of plain old manufacturing, and when you start to add up all those, there is a payoff in terms of more jobs and a lower unemployment rate," he said.

The jobless rate fell last month in all but six of South Carolina's 46 counties. State officials attributed the declines to gains in trade, transportation, utilities and hospitality, which added about 6,200 positions combined.

Manufacturing and business services added another 900 jobs. Over the past year, all of those sectors together have added a total of 26,500 jobs, according to data provided by state officials.

Government jobs were down by about 1,100 last month. But over the past year, that sector is up by about 2,500 jobs.

Nationally, the U.S. Labor Department said employers in 30 states added jobs, the fewest to report gains since August. Nineteen states reported job losses.

U.S. employers added just 74,000 jobs last month, the fewest in three years and much lower than the average of 214,000 in the previous four months. Economists attributed some of the slowdown to cold weather.

The unemployment rate fell to 6.7 percent, the lowest in more than five years. But the decline occurred mostly because more people stopped looking for work. The government only counts people as unemployed if they are actively looking for work.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.