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SC wages rose faster than expected this year. Pay raises will continue, economists say.

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Steve and Bobbie Smith of Myrtle Beach look at sweetgrass baskets in Charleston. South Carolina tourism is projected to grow, according to a new economic forecast. File/Staff

COLUMBIA — Income growth in the Palmetto State exceeded economists’ expectations in 2019 and is predicted to continue into 2020.

“This is the best job market we’ve seen in a generation,” said Doug Woodward, economist with the University of South Carolina’s business school.

And the faster rate of increase in pay has not been limited to top-level jobs.

“Workers are in high demand right now, and we are seeing strong wage growth as a result. This includes wage growth for workers across the pay scale, with those on the lower end benefiting the most," said USC economist Joey Von Nessen.

In 2019, Woodward and Von Nessen estimated wage gains as a whole would be around 4.4 percent. Ultimately, that growth rate came in closer to 5.6 percent statewide. Von Nessen expects that growth rate to hold steady in 2020 in the face of a tight labor market.

Personal income gains in Greenville were around 4.5 percent in 2019, Von Nessen said. Columbia’s average wage was up 3.7 percent and Charleston saw 2.7 percent wage growth.

Growth also has crept outside South Carolina's major metro areas for the first time in 2019, Von Nessen said, as effects from the nation's longest economic expansion filters to other parts of the state.

Florence had 4.6 percent wage growth, Myrtle Beach's increased 3.5 percent and Spartanburg wages were up 2.7 percent. The state's largest personal income gains were in Hilton Head, up 9.1 percent.

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Only one area experienced declines in earnings, Sumter, down 1.8 percent. Von Nessen said that is tied to lower growth rates in the nearby capital city and the Midlands not having the same industry clusters that have pumped up the economy elsewhere in the state.

The year was marked by growth across all industry sectors, the economists added. Many of South Carolina’s largest sectors, including retail, professional services and tourism, were supported by consumer spending.

Coastal housing and tourism were two shining stars, Woodward said.

“Tourism has done very well in 2019,” he said. “Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head have done particularly well.”

From 2018 to 2019, the tourism industry grew 2.8 percent.

Housing development in Berkeley County was another standout, Woodward said, particularly around Summerville and Moncks Corner.

And the Lancaster area has benefited from proximity to the Charlotte metro area and nearby manufacturing on the South Carolina side. Woodward said this is despite headwinds due to a slowing global economy and disputes with U.S. trade partners, particularly China.

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