South Carolina Unemployment Situation: Pandemic Claims Approaching $4.5 Billion

Staggering losses … and claims are still holding at elevated levels more than seven months after lockdowns began.

There is good news and bad news to report this week as it relates to the lingering impact of the coronavirus pandemic (and subsequent societal shutdowns) on South Carolina’s economy. Particularly the Palmetto State’s employment situation …

Let’s start with the good, shall we?

For the eleventh consecutive week, initial unemployment claims in South Carolina clocked in below the 10,000 threshold during the week ending October 10, 2020, according to data provided by the much-maligned S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce (SCDEW). And for the seventh consecutive week, initial claims registered below 5,500.

In fact, the 4884 initial claims reported during the week ending October 10 marked the second-lowest total since the Covid-19 lockdowns began in mid-March (bested only by the 4,283 reported during the week ending September 12, 2020).

All told, 759,693 unemployment claims have been filed since the week ending March 21, 2000 – including a record-breaking 87,686 initial claims filed during the week ending April 11, 2020.

During the first ten weeks of the lockdowns – from March 14 through May 23, 2020 – initial claims averaged 54,054 per week.

Take a look …

(Click to view)

A look at weekly initial unemployment claims in South Carolina since the beginning of the Covid-19 lockdowns in mid-March (via SCDEW)

While the sustained downward trajectory visible in the chart above is certainly encouraging, some key context is missing – namely the pre-Covid-19 data.

Specifically, the current “holding pattern” in initial claims is more than twice as high as the 2,093 initial claims filed during the week ending March 14, 2020 – the last “normal” week our economy will see in some time.

In other words, the “new normal” for joblessness remains twice as bad as it was before the pandemic … seven months after the fact.

Which is positively brutal … especially for the small businesses that drive employment growth (and income growth) in South Carolina.

Also troubling? A total of 134,049 claimants were still receiving benefits during the week ending October 10, 2020. That means 17.6 percent of those who filed claims during the ongoing recession remain on the dole.

That’s one out of every six recently unemployed workers in the state …

According to SCDEW, a total of $64.2 million in state and federal benefits was paid out between October 4 and October 10, 2020 – pushing the total tab for unemployment claims since the beginning of the lockdowns to a staggering $4.39 billion.

Take a look …

(Click to view)

A breakdown of total unemployment insurance payments to South Carolina workers from state and federal sources since March 15, 2020 (via SCDEW)

South Carolina’s unemployment insurance fund had $1 billion in its coffers at the end of the 2018-2019 fiscal year according to SCDEW records (.pdf).

State lawmakers have wisely chosen to invest a big chunk of federal coronavirus stimulus funds into shoring up this depleted account – which should help keep businesses from having to subsidize its replenishment next year.

In fact, state senator Thomas Alexander – a liberal “Republican” from Walhalla, S.C. – promised reporter Seanna Adcox of the Post and Courier earlier this year that there would “be no rate increase for businesses next year.”

Let’s hope he is correct …

“Failure to shore up this fund – which is still hemorrhaging cash – will result in another tax on businesses in South Carolina, one that will disproportionately hit small businesses at a time when they need to be plowing every available dime into recovering,” we wrote back in June.

After all, South Carolina small businesses simply cannot afford a repeat of what happened during the “recovery” from the 2008-2009 recession …




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