South Carolina's unemployment rate plummeted to a 13-year low in April to 5.3 percent, but a Charleston economist said job growth remains "anemic."
Area jobless rates
Area April 2014 March 2014 April 2013
Berkeley 4.7% 5.0% 6.2%
Charleston 4.0% 4.4% 5.7%
Dorchester 4.2% 4.5% 6.0%
South Carolina 5.3% 5.5% 7.9%
On the plus side, it's the 11th consecutive month the state's jobless rate has fallen and the lowest level since June 2001. The rate was 5.5 percent in March.
On the down side, 23,000 people have dropped out of the labor pool since April 2013, skewing the numbers to boost the state's overall employment picture.
Economists had projected about 1.9 percent growth in jobs over the past 12 months, according to College of Charleston economist Frank Hefner. The rate is about 1.8 percent.
"Job growth is still anemic," he said.
Some of the loss in the labor force, he said, could be attributed to aging Baby Boomers, who start turning 68 this year and are retiring, while college graduates who haven't found work yet might return home to live with their parents.
He believes the labor force will continue to decline while the state tracks at about 1.8 percent annual job growth amid modest wage gains.
Hefner predicts May's jobless rate could be flat as college graduates flood the market, and June's rate could tick up as college and high school graduates look for work and people in education whose contract doesn't extend over the summer can't find jobs.
About 4,700 people found work in April, boosting to 36,000 the number of people to be hired since April 2013. About 2.05 million people have jobs in South Carolina, a historic high, according to Cheryl M. Stanton, executive director of the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce.
"Our agency remains dedicated to connecting the state's businesses and job seekers and providing them with the tools they need to succeed and thrive in today's growing economy," she said.
Nationally, the unemployment rate fell by 0.4 percent to 6.3 percent in April.
Gov. Nikki Haley trumpeted the 13-year low as "something every citizen of our state should be proud of."
Charleston economist Stephen Slifer said the good news is tempered by unwarranted pessimism about the state of the labor market.
"With the unemployment rate in South Carolina at 5.3 percent, if the state is not at full employment, it is close to it," said Slifer, a former chief economist at Lehman Brothers who now owns NumberNomics.
"What that suggests is that we should soon begin to see wages rise more quickly as employers have to look a bit harder to find the skilled workers that they need," he said. "It should present additional employment opportunities for our youth where the unemployment rate remains high. And it may also imply that some of those workers holding temporary or part-time jobs may be offered a full-time position."
He said most economists believe the full employment level nationally is with about 5.5 percent unemployment. "At that level everyone who wants a job has one," Slifer said.
Some parts of the state, especially the Charleston region which is at 4.2 percent unemployment, have caught up to pre-recession job numbers while others have not, Hefner said. He cited Columbia and Spartanburg as two areas lagging in job growth.
And although the booming Charleston region continues to see low unemployment rates, he said the area is not at full employment.
"We still have 14,000 unemployed people in the area," Hefner said. "At around 3.5 percent, we might have a problem finding employees. At that point, wages could go up or people could move in."
All 46 counties reported lower jobless rates in April. Marion, in the rural Pee Dee region, posted the highest rate of 9.5 percent while Saluda, in the Midlands, recorded the lowest rate of 3.9 percent.
Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.