SC unemployment rate edges up to 12.3 percent

AP News
Posted: Dec 18, 2009 11:43 AM

South Carolina's unemployment rate has hit a new high at 12.3 percent, according to data released Friday by the state agency that calculates the rate.

That's a new record for this state, where the jobless rate frequently has been among the highest in the country for much of the past year. That remained the case for November, when South Carolina's unemployment was tied with California and Nevada for the nation's third-highest, behind only Michigan (14.7) and Rhode Island (12.7).

The state Employment Security Commission, the agency that calculates the rate, attributed the increase to continued losses in the hospitality and construction sectors. There were gains in South Carolina's government and retail sectors _ as well as the first increase in manufacturing jobs since May 2008 _ but those gains were not enough to offset the 8,300 job losses.

Overall, the state's job count was 50,800 below its level a year ago and nearly 92,500 below its level in December 2007, when the recession started.

At a conference earlier this month, economists disagreed over when South Carolina's economy will begin recovering, with some saying 2010 could bring job gains that will push the state's jobless rate down somewhat. But experts agreed it will take years for the state to see single-digit unemployment, an opinion echoed Thursday by the Employment Security Commission's chief.

"We have seen an increase in the number of people returning to the work force for the first time since May, and we will likely see the number of unemployed rise throughout the fall months," said Sam Foster, the commission's interim director. "Going forward, extensive job creation in the private sector will be a key factor in lowering the state's unemployment rate for the long term."

Officials also adjusted the state's October jobless rate down slightly, to 12 percent. It had been 12.1 percent, a figure that placed the state fifth-highest in the country and matched a state record earlier in the year.

Allendale County again had the state's highest unemployment, which rose nearly a full point to 23 percent in November. Lexington County had the lowest jobless rate, at 8.8 percent.