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Record number of workers employed in SC last month, but manufacturing shed jobs

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South Carolina's manufacturing industry shed 1,700 jobs in August, but the sector is still up by about 6,900 jobs compared to last year. File/Wade Spees/Staff

A record number of workers were employed in South Carolina in August, pushing the jobless figure back down to a historic low of 3.2 percent and marking another month of strong labor data for the Palmetto State. 

About 2.3 million people in South Carolina were working in August, an increase of about 2.5 percent over the same time last year, according to figures released Friday by the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce.

That well outpaces the growth of the overall U.S. labor force, which is about 1.3 percent. 

Most sectors of the economy added workers or stayed steady, but the all-important manufacturing sector shed about 1,700 jobs last month. Factory employment in South Carolina is still up compared to a year ago — the industry has about 6,900 more jobs than it did last August — but the large month-to-month decline was unusual.

Other than one drop of 300 jobs in June, manufacturing has posted job gains every month this year. 

The dip can likely be attributed to uncertainty over Chinese tariffs, said Laura Ullrich, a regional economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. 

"Some manufacturers are telling us that tariffs are hurting them significantly," Ullrich said. "Others are seeing indirect effects, or they’re nervous about additional tariffs."

Meanwhile, the construction industry, which has seen job losses nearly every month this year, bounced back with an addition of 1,800 positions in August. 

That's even larger than the jump the industry saw in June, which had followed five consecutive months of construction job losses. The sector then shed 1,500 jobs in July. 

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Despite having six months with job losses, construction employment was still at a net gain of about 300 jobs over August of last year. 

Nearly every industry employed more workers in August than they did at the same time in 2018. Hospitality, which held steady last month, has added the most jobs, followed by manufacturing. 

South Carolina's jobless rate continues to fare better than neighboring states'. In North Carolina and Georgia, the unemployment rates held steady since July at 4.2 percent and 3.6 percent, respectively. 

Unemployment in the Charleston region went down again, reaching 2.5 percent, the lowest in the state, according to the Department of Employment and Workforce. 

The Greenville area wasn't far behind at a rate of 2.7 percent, and about 2.8 percent of Columbia's labor force was unemployed in August. Every metro area in the state has jobless rates below 4 percent.

Employment gains over the last year have been strongest in South Carolina along the coast and in the Upstate.The Charleston, Myrtle Beach, Spartanburg and Greenville areas all saw strong growth since last summer, ranging between 2 and 2.7 percent. Employment in the Hilton Head area, which also includes Bluffton and Beaufort, grew at an even higher rate, about 3.7 percent.

Columbia was the only metro area in the state to see no growth in employment from July 2018 to July this year. 

Reach Emily Williams at 843-937-5553. Follow her on Twitter @emilye_williams.

Emily Williams is a business reporter at The Post and Courier, covering tourism and aerospace. She also writes the Business Headlines newsletter and co-hosts the weekly podcast Understand SC.

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