Jobless rate

Charleston County

March 4.4%

February 4.3%

March 2013 5.9%

Dorchester

March 4.6%

February 4.4%

March 2013 6.4%

Berkeley

March 5.0%

February 4.8%

March 2013 6.5%

S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce

The unemployment rate for South Carolina has dropped to its lowest level in six years, officials announced Friday. But the state's jobs picture is not all rosy, at least one economist said.

The S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce reported that the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 5.5 percent in March, down from 5.7 in February and the lowest level since March 2008, officials said.

The state's rate also dropped as a majority of the state's counties reported a slight increase in jobless rates. County-level unemployment rates aren't adjusted seasonally like the state figures.

The state's four metro regions (Greenville, Florence, Columbia and Charleston) recorded an increase in jobless rates between February and March.

Gov. Nikki Haley lauded the state's jobless rate drop as an indication the state "is moving in the right direction."

"Dropping our unemployment rate a full five points since January 2011 says a lot about our state and the hardworking people who make it their home," Haley said in a written statement.

But according to the Board of Economic Advisors, the falling unemployment rate is partly explained by people dropping out of the labor force, not an overall improvement in the state's economic picture.

The percentage of working-age people in South Carolina who have a job - including part time - is actually going down, economist Robert Martin told the board Thursday. South Carolina's labor force participation rate has steadily shrunk since mid-2013, according to his charts, using data from the U.S. Department of Labor.

"People are dropping out of the labor force for a number of reasons. What happens to the unemployment rate? It comes down and comes down fast," he said.

Reasons include people retiring and being replaced by technology, he said.

College of Charleston economist Frank Hefner said the state saw 39,000 additional jobs in March, a sign of good growth that nearly follows the 2 percent jobs growth predicted.

"We are there in terms of the growth we have had, and we should continue to see declines in the unemployment rate, especially given the labor force is less this year than last year," he said. "We have more jobs and fewer people that are in the market, so the unemployment rate should continue to drop."

The estimated number of employed in the state was 2,046,002 in March, up 6,560 since February, according to state officials.

Employers have been gearing up for the busy tourism season with a total of 800 jobs added in the leisure/hospitality segment last month. Other major growth includes construction and education and health services, which together tallied 5,000 additional jobs.

The Charleston metro region, which includes the tri-county area, tallied a 4.6 percent jobless rate in March, up from 4.4 in February, but down from 6.2 percent in March 2013.

The lowest jobless rate in the region was Charleston County at 4.4 percent, up from 4.3 percent in February, but down from 5.9 percent in March 2013.

Marion County had the state's highest unemployment at 10.4 percent in March. The lowest rate was in Lexington County at 4.2 percent.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.