In the coming weeks, bean counters at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) will issue so-called “seasonal revisions” to state and local work force data. This means they will “reestimate” these numbers going as far back as 2018 based on updated population information.
According to the methodology for these adjustments, the goal is to weed out “periodic fluctuations associated with recurring calendar-related events such as weather, holidays, and the opening and closing of schools.”
“Seasonal adjustment removes the influence of these fluctuations and makes it easier for users to observe fundamental changes in the level of the series, particularly changes associated with general economic expansions and contractions,” the agency noted.
Works for me …
Whatever tweaks are made to this data, though, the news is unlikely to be particularly good for South Carolina. After hitting a new record low of 56.4 percent during the month of November, the twelfth and final month of 2022 saw labor participation in the Palmetto State dip even further – reaching another new record low of 56.3 percent in December.
That final 2022 reading – assuming it holds – continued a free-fall in this most critical of all employment metrics.
Take a look ..
(Click to view)
As you can see on the chart above – compiled by FITSNews’ inimitable research director Jenn Wood – labor participation in South Carolina has dipped by 1.2 percent over the past six months. In other words, we are currently in the midst of the fastest, steepest decline this indicator has experienced since the immediate aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. Nationally, labor participation was unchanged in December from six months earlier – clocking in at 62.3 percent.
Once again, this means South Carolina is falling further behind the rest of the nation …
Only three states – New Mexico (55.7 percent), Mississippi (54.6 percent) and West Virginia (54.8 percent) – fared worse than South Carolina on this key metric as 2022 closed.
Unlike the unemployment rate – which tracks only a segment of workers within the labor force – labor participation tracks the size of the workforce itself. That makes it a far more accurate indicator of the extent to which people are gainfully employed … or not.
Some in the mainstream press have tried to spin South Carolina’s anemic workforce totals as being due to the state having a considerably larger retiree population than most states. There is some truth to that, as an estimated 18.7 percent of the state’s population was over the age of 65 in 2020, according to U.S. Census Bureau data – ranking tenth in the nation.
The problem with this argument? All but one of the nine states boasting larger retiree populations than the Palmetto State have higher labor participation rates – including six states with labor participation rates above 60 percent.
Also worth considering? South Carolina has always had a larger-than-average retirement age population. But its work force has not always struggled this mightily to keep up with the rest of the country.
Under former governor (and 2024 presidential candidate) Nikki Haley, labor force participation in South Carolina peaked at 60.3 percent between May and September 2011 – but continued to lag 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.
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Under governor Henry McMaster and the current crop of “Republican” legislative leaders, labor force participation peaked at 58.3 percent in March and April of 2019. By contrast, labor participation reached as high as 68.5 percent during the early 1990s – right around the time the GOP was beginning its takeover of state government.
Gotta love that “Republican” rule, right?
For those of you keeping score at home, in December 2022 there were 4,224,518 working age South Carolinians – of whom 2,377,471 were part of the labor force. The working age population increased by 6,154 from November, but the number of people working or actively looking for work declined by 3,283.
Over the past six months, the state’s working age population has expanded by 39,815 – but its workforce has shrunk by 26,715.
As I have often noted, “just to maintain its current (anemic) positioning South Carolina must grow its labor force at the same rate its population is expanding.” Actually, given the extent to which the Palmetto State trails the national average, this rate needs to be expanding faster than the population is growing.
Not only is that not happening … South Carolina keeps moving in reverse.
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. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children.
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