South Carolina's unemployment rate continued to drop in January. But industry and state officials say the larger picture is the pace of job growth.

County by county

Charleston County

Jan. 5.5%

Dec. 5.0%

Jan. 2013 6.8%

Dorchester County

Jan. 5.5%

Dec. 5.4%

Jan. 2013 6.9%

Berkeley County

Jan. 5.9%

Dec. 5.6%

Jan. 2013 7.4%

Source: S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce

The Palmetto State reported a jobless rate of 6.4 percent for the first month of the year, down from 6.6 percent in December and from 8.2 percent in January 2013, according to a new report released Monday.

"An eighth consecutive monthly drop in South Carolina's unemployment rate is a great way to begin 2014," said Cheryl M. Stanton, executive director of the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce. "As employment levels continue to rise, more South Carolinians are working than ever before at a record-breaking high of 2.03 million in January."

College of Charleston economist Frank Hefner said the year-over-year job growth was the bright spot of the state report, especially the nonseasonally adjusted job figures.

"I rather focus on the fact we created 46,000 jobs, and that's a 2.5 percent increase in real jobs, and that's a significant amount," Hefner said.

The January jobless figure marked the second consecutive month that South Carolina's unemployment rate was lower than the national average. The U.S. average for January was 6.6 percent, according to the Labor Department.

South Carolina also had one of the lowest jobless rates for states in the Southeast for January, just behind Alabama and Florida, which were even at 6.1 percent.

In all, unemployment rates fell in 43 U.S. states, according to the Labor Department.

The number of unemployed people in South Carolina was estimated at 138,268, according to state data.

Nonagricultural jobs in South Carolina went down by 4,800 in January from December, but they were up by 37,000 from the same month a year ago, according to state officials.

Only two sectors - education and health services and information - posted job gains in January, with a total of 500 jobs.

But since January 2013, those sectors are up by 5,200 jobs, according to the report.

The Charleston region's jobless rate was lower than the state average, at 5.6 percent in January. That was up from 5.2 percent in December, and down from 7 percent in January 2013.

Marion County had the state's highest unemployment, at 13.6 percent in January. The lowest rate was in Lexington County, at 5.1 percent.

Reach Tyrone Richardson at 937-5550. The Associated Press contributed to this story.