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Tens of thousands of people in SC are using jobless benefits that expire in December

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At the end of October, more than 183,000 South Carolinians were still trying to claim jobless benefits, and tens of thousands of them were relying on two federal programs that will expire at the end of the year. 

The latest unemployment numbers released by the U.S. Department of Labor on Thursday show South Carolina is still in the midst of a historic jobs crisis as COVID-19 surges across the country.

The South Carolina economy has regained some of the jobs it lost earlier this year, but thousands remain out of work and the state is still missing nearly 20 percent of the tourism and hospitality jobs that existed in March. 

It's with that backdrop that people continue to apply for jobless benefits through the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce. 

The latest numbers show roughly 47,000 residents were seeking benefits as of Nov. 7 through the South Carolina unemployment insurance trust fund, which has been under financial pressure this year. That's down about 5,200 from the prior week.

The number of first-time applicants edged up slightly for the week ended Nov. 14 to about 3,500 from the previous seven days, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

But there's an even bigger group of people who were trying to collect money through two programs set up by the federal government this year. 

More than 71,000 people were seeking out benefits from what is known as the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which provides an extra 13 weeks of benefits to people who have already used up their 20 weeks of eligibility through the state.

And another 55,193 people were trying to apply through what is known as Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which established to provide jobless benefits to contractors, self-employed individuals and so-called gig economy workers who normally would not qualify for assistance through the state. 

Congress set up the two programs earlier this year. Both will cease to exist in late December unless Congress extends them.  The most that someone can collect through the federal programs in South Carolina is $326 per week. 

Dan Ellzey, DEW's Director, has encouraged unemployed workers in recent weeks to seek out new jobs, and he's pointed to the roughly 119,000 openings that were posted online in October. 

But some economists warn there may be a gap significant between the jobs that are available and the people who are looking for work. 

Tom Barkin, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, told members of the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce this week that many sidelined workers may not have the skills or education to fill the available jobs in manufacturing, health care or technology. 

“These lower income service workers — think waiters — don’t have the skills for the jobs that are available, and many are frozen in place,” he said. “Many are not ready to move to another city, or to invest in training for their next job given the uncertainty around the virus.” 

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Reach Andrew Brown at 843-708-1830 or follow him on Twitter @andy_ed_brown.

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