S.C. jobless rate dips, but leaders still not satisfied

South Carolina’s unemployment rate edged lower in December, ending several months of increases, a new state report says.

South Carolina’s unemployment rate dropped to 6.5 percent in December from 6.7 percent in November, but still not enough to appease the governor or economists.

The decline occurred during the holiday hiring season after the state’s jobless rate climbed from July through October before holding steady in November.

“While we are happy to see unemployment numbers coming down, we are going to continue focusing on those out of work,” Gov. Nikki Haley said in a statement Tuesday.

The state’s labor force grew by nearly 4,500 people in December to 2.2 million, while the number of people officially registered as out of work dropped by nearly 2,800, to more than 143,000, according to the Department of Employment and Workforce.

The state agency reported the number of people in the workforce jumped by nearly 34,000 since December 2013 and that nearly 33,000 people found a job.

Because of the labor force increasing and the number of jobs being created keeping close pace, year over year the state’s jobless rate barely budged, falling a scant 0.1 percent from December 2013.

The state’s jobless rate puzzled economist Stephen Slifer with Daniel Island-based NumberNomics.

“I’m surprised it hasn’t dropped more than that considering how good the economy is doing,” Slifer said. “I’m wondering if businesses are having a hard time finding qualified workers for the jobs that are available. When a lot of people looking for work don’t have the skills, you have this thing hang on the high side.”

University of South Carolina economist Joey Von Nessen said earlier this month that he expects the state’s jobless rate to be about 6.3 percent this year, with the Palmetto State not reaching full employment until 2016 at the earliest.

Most economists declare full employment with 5 percent to 5.5 percent of the labor pool out of work, though no one knows for sure what it is, Slifer said.

At that point, employers may be forced to increase wages to attract and retain workers.

In December, the state saw employment gains in professional and business services; construction; manufacturing; education and health services; and trade, transportation and utilities. Sectors shedding jobs included leisure and hospitality, finance, information, government and other services.

The Charleston metropolitan area reported a 5.4 percent unemployment, down from 5.6 percent in November. The Greenville area posted the lowest jobless rate among the state’s metro areas at 5.2 percent, down from 5.4 percent the previous month.

Marion County in the rural Pee Dee region had the highest jobless rate, at 11.9 percent.

The national unemployment rate declined to 5.6 percent from 5.8 percent in November.

Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.