State's jobless rate rises for 4th consecutive month

Dana Samuel, North Charleston

Dana Samuel of North Charleston lost her retail job in June.

The 27-year-old single mother has applied to numerous places for a job.

"It's hard," she said. "They don't call back. They don't respond. You hear nothing. Some say I'm not qualified for the position. Others say I don't have the experience."

Samuel is trying to juggle raising two children, getting a degree in criminal justice from Trident Technical College and landing a job that pays more than the $91 in jobless benefits she receives each week.

Samuel, who receives child support and rent and food assistance, said he believes government leaders are trying to create more jobs but said they are falling short.

"I think it's going to get a lot worse before it gets better," she said.

Economists agreed Friday after South Carolina's jobless rate climbed for the fourth consecutive month to 11.1 percent, tying the District of Columbia for the fourth-highest unemployment rate in the nation. It was 10.9 percent in July and is one-tenth of a percent higher than the jobless rate in August 2010, according to the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce.

The national unemployment rate stayed at 9.1 percent for the second straight month. The U.S. Labor Department said Friday that unemployment rates increased in 26 states. They fell in 12 and remained unchanged in 12.

Issues

The core of the problem -- and the eventual solution -- is found in government, especially Washington, D.C., according to Clemson University economist Raymond D. Sauer.

He referred to uncertainty in health care, tax policy and the ongoing National Labor Relations Board case against Boeing. "Until we resolve the public-sector fiscal problem, that's going to be a drag on employment and the economy," he said.

The corporate sector is "well-endowed with cash at the moment ... but the animal spirits aren't there," he said, referring to the late economist John Maynard Keynes' term for confidence in the future and the attendant urge to act.

"Businesses right now, they're spooked. They're spooked about demand, and they're spooked about government policy coming out of D.C.," he said.

Michael Ryan, chief investment strategist and head of wealth management research for the Americas at UBS, said at this point in an economic recovery employers should be beefing up their payrolls. That's not the case, which he called highly troubling.

"Even after the recession, companies are still shedding jobs," Ryan said Thursday during a visit to Charleston.

One key culprit is that many small employers who rely on banks and other conventional forms of financing are finding it more difficult to borrow, Ryan said.

"If they can't borrow, they can't build. If they can't build, they can hire. It's as simple as that," he said.

Mark Vitner, managing director and senior economist at Wells Fargo Bank in Charlotte, said "the most amazing thing" is the disconnect between the high unemployment numbers and the success South Carolina has had in attracting businesses. But recent job announcements aren't reflected in Friday's numbers because most of the jobs haven't been created yet.

"From a policy standpoint, the Department of Commerce and the state are doing just about everything they can," Vitner said.

Construction lost more jobs than any other sector besides government from August 2010 to August 2011.

"It's in a long-term depression, and that won't be resolved until we have sustained growth for several years," Sauer said.

Vitner said the manufacturing and tourism sectors were bright spots, citing the Boeing plant in North Charleston and respectable summer seasons in Myrtle Beach and the Charleston area.

"But unfortunately, I do not expect the unemployment rate to come down significantly any time in the next year and a half or two years," the bank economist said.

Vitner predicts the national unemployment rate will rise until the end of 2011 and only come down toward the middle of next year. He predicts a national rate around 9 percent even as late as 2013.

Frustration

South Carolina has 239,170 people who can't find a job, and the Employment and Workforce Department attributed the rise to fewer people being employed and more people looking for work.

Total nonfarm employment declined by 1,700 in August. The state had 1.92 million people receiving a paycheck, but the state's total labor force is estimated to be 2.16 million.

Recruiting jobs is the No. 1 way to combat the unemployment rate, Gov. Nikki Haley said.

"I am as frustrated as anybody else that the unemployment rate has gone up, but we know why it has gone up and we're also doing something about it," the governor told The Post and Courier, referring to growth in the state's work force.

College graduates are unable to find work, retirees can no longer live on the cash they had set aside and people who had given up looking for work are re-entering the market with recent news of job creation, Haley said.

The first-term Republican also said she is working with state employment officials to find ways to connect job seekers with employers who are hiring skilled workers.

State Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston, called on the governor to produce a jobs plan as soon as possible to address "an ever-deepening jobs crisis."

Haley said she has a job training plan in the works, but she declined to offer details.

"More than anything it's me being on the phone," Haley said. "It's me meeting with companies. It's me making sure that I am recruiting as strong and as hard as I can, and we're continuing to show results every week. I've just got to do more of it," Haley said.

For workers such as Adam Morrison, a jobs plan can't come soon enough.

He hasn't worked since May. Laid off from a construction job, he has applied to 56 places since then.

"They will take your application, but none of them had anything to offer," the 28-year-old West Ashley resident said while filling out forms at the Employment and Workforce office on Lockwood Drive in Charleston with Samuel and others.

Now living with his mother, the father of two suggested the government, be it state or federal, inject more money into construction projects.

"A lot of the roads need work around here," he said. "Maybe they could update the schools."

To attack high unemployment and a stagnant, if not worsening, economy, Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston, said the state's top officials need new tools.

Some of the fixes he cited include more legislative oversight on the regulations and fees imposed by government agencies, better control of Medicaid costs, a workable rail plan for North Charleston and a state and national energy plan that keeps fuel costs low.

"We're here in a global and national competition for state-of-the-art industries, and we've got to think competitively," McConnell said.

Yvonne Wenger and John McDermott contributed to this report. Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or Brendan Kearney at 937-5906.