South Carolina's unemployment rate plummeted to 5.7 percent in February from 6.4 percent in January, the largest one-month decrease since the state starting tracking jobless numbers in 1976, the Department of Employment and Workforce said Friday.

County jobless rates

Charleston County

Feb.: 4.3%

Jan.: 5.4%

Feb. 2013: 6.5%

Berkeley County

Feb.: 4.8%

Jan.: 5.9%

Feb. 2013: 7.1%

Dorchester County

Feb.: 4.4%

Jan.: 5.5%

Feb. 2013: 6.7%

Source: S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce

It was the ninth consecutive month the figure has declined.

Now at a six-year low, the February jobless rate was better than the 6.7 percent national average and, for the first time in nearly 16 years, the state rate is a full percentage point below the national rate.

South Carolina also marked the lowest jobless rate for the Southeast region, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"South Carolina's economic recovery is clearly gaining momentum. More industries are expanding their operations and adding workers," said Wells Fargo senior economist Mark Vitner of Charlotte. "The improvement is evident across most of the state, but particularly in the Upstate, Charleston and Myrtle Beach. 2014 is shaping up to be a very good year for South Carolina."

The unemployment rate in the Charleston metro region was 4.5 percent.

The Charleston region's lowest unemployment rate was in Charleston County, which recorded 4.3 percent jobless for the month, down from 6.5 percent in February 2013.

The number of South Carolina residents working also increased for the seventh consecutive month in February, up by 8,435 to a historic high of almost 2.04 million.

There are now about 124,000 people out of work in the Palmetto State, which has a population of almost 4.8 million, according to new U.S. Census Bureau figures released this week.

The financial, government and manufacturing sectors added about 1,600 jobs. Jobs in the trade, education and health services, and hospitality sectors were down by 5,300.

But while jobs in hospitality were down on a monthly basis, there were 7,700 more people working in the industry in South Carolina than a year ago. That increase led all job sectors during the past year. Tourism is an $18 billion industry in South Carolina.

There were also 5,900 more people working in trade transportation and utilities and 4,700 more working in manufacturing last month than in February of 2013.

Marion County had the state's highest unemployment, at 10.6 percent in February. The lowest rate was in Lexington County, at 4 percent.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.