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South Carolina’s Jobs Economy: Still Struggling

The real workforce data you should be watching …

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You’ve seen the headlines: South Carolina unemployment rate at its lowest level in seventeen years.

Is it true?  Yes ….

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), South Carolina’s unemployment rate – i.e. the percentage of the labor force that’s out of a job – stood at four percent in November 2017, the last month for which statistics are available.  And yes, that’s roughly the lowest this measure has been in more than a decade-and-a-half (it dipped to 3.9 percent a few times last year).

Is that good?  According to the state’s politicians and mainstream media outlets, yesUnequivocally.  They’ve trained the public to view the unemployment rate as the be-all, end-all of jobs data – and to respond with Pavlovian praise or indignation for those elected officials “responsible” for its increases or decreases.

That’s unfortunate, because as we’ve repeatedly pointed out the figure is essentially worthless.

Seriously, it’s #FakeNews.

The real employment number you should be paying attention to?  Labor participation.

Unlike the unemployment rate – which tracks a segment of workers within the labor force – the labor participation rate tracks the size of the workforce itself.  This makes it a far better indicator of the extent to which people are gainfully employed in a state (or country).

Labor participation tracks the percentage of the working age population that is participating in the labor market – i.e. workers who are either employed or actively looking for work.

In November 2017, the last month for which statistics are available, that rate was 58.7 percent in South Carolina according to the BLS – down 0.1 percent from the previous month.

That’s tied for the lowest print of 2017 – and down 0.7 percent from the high-water mark of 59.4 percent under current governor Henry McMaster.  Labor participation under former governor Nikki Haley peaked at 60.3 percent in mid-2011, but dipped below the 60 percent mark in December 2011 – and remained below this key demarcation line for the duration of her tenure.

By contrast, this measure reached as high as 68.5 percent during the early 1990s.

For those of you keeping score at home there were 2,325,319 South Carolinians in the workforce in November – down 803 from October’s print of 2,326,122.  Meanwhile the state’s working age population expanded by 4,418 people – from 3,957,841 to 3,962,259.

In other words the state’s workforce shrunk – both in real terms and as a percentage of its working age population.

Not good …

Also not good?  As was the case for most of 2017, South Carolina had the sixth-lowest labor participation rate in the country in November – ahead of only Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, New Mexico and West Virginia.

We will obviously continue to track this data as the 2018 elections draw closer.

We would also encourage those who hold office (and those who seek office) in the Palmetto State to start addressing this data, which appears to be the only way to get the mainstream media to start paying attention to it.

More importantly, we would challenge officeholders and office seekers in South Carolina to lay out their proposals to turn this abysmal metric around – and to improve the quality of jobs in the process.

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