S.C. jobless rate tumbles

The Employment Security Commission office on Lockwood Boulevard has been a busy place since the economic downturn took hold.

South Carolina's unemployment rate fell back into single-digit territory in November, declining to 9.9 percent after a big boost in seasonal holiday hiring.

The 0.6 percent drop from October's 10.5 percent jobless rate was "unprecedented," the state Department of Employment and Workforce said Tuesday.

"This represents the largest monthly drop since 1976, the first year the Bureau of Labor Statistics made the monthly data series available," the agency said in a statement.

Gov. Nikki Haley hailed the decline but noted that the state -- in a tie with Georgia for the sixth-highest jobless rate in the nation and just 1 percent less than the rate in November 2010 -- still has a long way to go to shorten its unemployment lines.

"When we took office, the unemployment rate was 10.5 percent. To see it drop to 9.9 percent is a good way to end the year," she said. "We continue to have challenges, but we are committed to doing all we can to put South Carolinians back to work."

College of Charleston economist Frank Hefner called the falling month-to-month rate an encouraging sign for the fragile economy, but focused on the year-over-year figures as more telling.

"It's a full percent lower," Hefner said. "That's actually significant. This year more people are participating in the labor market, and they are finding jobs. In the state we gained 30,700 more jobs over the year.

"That doesn't make up for the 90,000 we lost since the recession started, but we are seeing improvement in the private sector across the board."

The national unemployment rate also declined significantly over the same period, falling to 8.6 percent in November from 9.0 percent in the previous month. Forty-three states reported lower jobless figures last month.

The size of the South Carolina labor force contracted by 4,750 from October to November; the number of employed grew by 9,777; and the number of unemployed declined by 14,527.

"These figures indicate that some job seekers have suspended job search activities," the state employment department said.

The manufacturing sector added 900 jobs from October to November in the state and is up by 10,800 positions from a year ago.

The industry with the largest month-to-month increase was trade, transportation and utilities, which gained 8,800 jobs across the state. Most of that was within the retail trade business as merchants hired for the holidays.

Professional and business services expanded by 6,600 jobs. The leisure and hospitality industry shed 3,300 positions due to typical seasonal demand factors.

The jobless rate for the greater Charleston region fell to 7.8 percent last month, from 8.5 percent in October, well below the national unemployment rate. Neighboring Colleton County's rate dropped to 11.6 percent from 12.5 percent the previous month.

Mostly rural Marion County reported the highest jobless rate at 17.3 percent, while Lexington County in the Midlands posted the lowest unemployment level of 7.0 percent.