A resurgent tourism economy failed to generate a significant jobs boost for the South Carolina economy in May – although the numbers were modestly better than they were during the previous month. Still, the Palmetto State continues to lag well behind the rest of the nation in terms of the relative size of its work force – tying for fourth-worst nationally on this critical metric.
According to data released this week by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a total of 2,388,088 South Carolinians were part of the labor force last month – an increase of 6,727 people from the previous month.
That increase prompted a modest uptick of 0.1 percent in the state’s labor participation rate – which measures the percentage of working age South Carolinians who are gainfully employed. This metric stood at 57.1 percent for the month of May – which was tied with Alabama for the fourth-worst reading in the country.
Only Kentucky (56.6 percent), Mississippi (56 percent) and West Virginia (55.3 percent) had smaller workforces as a percentage of their working age populations …
Why does this news outlet follow labor participation more closely than the widely watched unemployment rate? Easy: Unlike the latter indicator – which only 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 more accurate indicator of the extent to which people are gainfully employed … or not.
For those of you who care about the unemployment rate, it dropped 0.4 percent last month – from 5 percent to 4.6 percent.
South Carolina’s sluggish labor participation rate – and its anemic income levels – have sparked a renewed debate over whether the state’s “Republican” leaders are making wise policy decisions when it comes to facilitating economic development in the Palmetto State.
Is this approach working? No …
Under former governor Nikki Haley, labor participation in South Carolina peaked at 60.3 percent between May and September 2011 – but continued to lag well behind the national rate (which ranged between 64 percent and 64.2 percent during that time period). In May of 2012, the rate dipped below 60 percent – and has remained beneath this key demarcation line ever since.
By contrast, labor participation reached as high as 68.5 percent during the early 1990s – right around the time so-called “Republicans” were taking control of state government.
Last fall, University of South Carolina economist Joseph Von Nessen told a conference of business leaders that “South Carolina will have to begin re-thinking its approach to economic development” – focusing less on corporate recruitment and more on “persuading workers to live in South Carolina.”
Meanwhile, economist Rebecca Gunnlaugsson has done some excellent work highlighting how anti-competitive tax climates have curtailed economic expansion at the municipal level – saddling individuals and existing businesses with exorbitant tax burdens.
Are Von Nessen and Gunnlaugsson correct in their assessments? Yes …
Once again, though, lawmakers failed to heed these calls … doubling down on their crony capitalist approach.
The tax reform mantra has been seized in recent weeks by Upstate businessman John Warren, who is likely to challenge status quo governor Henry McMaster for the GOP gubernatorial nomination next spring. Hopefully, Warren will continue to advance this narrative as he ramps up his political activities. After all, the state desperately needs someone willing to shine a light on the chronic failure of the current administration and its legislative allies when it comes to protecting the small businesses and individual income earners who drive economic growth in this state.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina and before that he was a bass player and a dive bar bouncer. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children. And yes, he has LOTS of hats (including the above-pictured Washington Senators’ lid).
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