South Carolina Work Force Gains More Ground

Another impressive month for job growth in the Palmetto State … but is it sustainable?

After an anemic 2018, the Palmetto State’s employment situation has improved markedly through the first four months of 2019.

According to preliminary data released earlier this month by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), South Carolina’s labor participation rate climbed by another 0.2 percent in April to 58.3 percent – matching its highest point since December of 2017.

This critical metric is now up 0.5 percent from January’s revised print of 57.8 percent – which marked a record low.

Nationally, labor participation declined in April by 0.2 percent – landing at 62.8 percent.

Last month, there were a total of 4,050,975 working age South Carolinians – up 4,779 from the previous month. Meanwhile there were 2,360,091 South Carolinians participating in the work force – up 9,476 from the previous month.

Can these impressive gains prove sustainable? We will have to wait and see … but the last two months have marked a distinctly positive upward trend after several years of steady declines.

The bad news? South Carolina remains tied with New Mexico for the fifth-lowest labor participation rate in the nation – ahead of only Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi and West Virginia.

So while it is nice to see increases, there is still plenty of room to grow.


Unlike the widely watched employment rate – which tracks only a segment of workers within the labor force – the labor participation rate tracks the size of the workforce itself. That makes it a far better indicator of the extent to which people are gainfully employed in a particular state.

Hence our decision to track this metric and generally ignore the far less relevant unemployment rate …

Thanks to the recent uptick, labor participation is now down only 0.3 percent since governor Henry McMaster took office. And while the robustness (or lack thereof) of this indicator is linked far more closely with decisions made by the all-powerful S.C. General Assembly, McMaster is no doubt pleased to see it climb given his recent political machinations.

Labor participation dipped below 60 percent in May of 2012 under former governor Nikki Haley and has not reclaimed that level since. By contrast, this measure reached as high as 68.5 percent during the early 1990s – right around the time Republicans were taking over state government.



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