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South Carolina’s Labor Force Is Shrinking Further, Faster Than Expected

New record lows … and we haven’t seen the bottom yet.

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South Carolina’s jobs economy went from bad to worse following the release of seasonally revised labor participation data showing a far steeper decline on this critical employment metric than originally reported.

While this is awful news for the state’s economy – and its shrinking workforce – here’s hoping it will place renewed pressure on “Republican” lawmakers in the S.C. General Assembly. These GOP “supermajorities” remain intent on doling out crony capitalist subsidies to select corporations rather than providing long-overdue broad-based tax relief for all income-earners.

The results of those policies continue speaking for themselves …

Last month, this news outlet reported that the Palmetto State’s labor participation rate – the key jobs indicator tracked by economists – had reached a new record low of 56.3 percent during the month of December 2022, according to the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).



After seasonal revisions, it turns out this number was actually much lower – 55.8 percent. This new nadir was matched by an identical reading during the month of January 2023. Only two states – West Virginia (54.7 percent) and Mississippi (54.4 percent) – fared worse than South Carolina on this vital employment indicator during the month of January.

Since May 2022, South Carolina’s working age population has expanded from 4,184,393 to 4,254,635 – an increase of 70,242 people, according to the BLS data. Just to maintain its current labor levels, the state would have needed to expand its workforce by thousands of new positions over that time period. Instead, its workforce shrank by 5,969 people over the last nine months.

By contrast, national labor participation ticked up to 62.5 percent last month – its highest reading since Covid-19 hit back in March 2020. In other words, South Carolina is continuing to fall further behind the rest of the nation – and its regional rivals – as we enter a period of peak global economic uncertainty.

Are you a visual learner? Check out the divergence on this graph compiled by our inimitable research director, Jenn Wood

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 in this case, not.

Some mainstream media apologists have tried to spin the Palmetto State’s anemic workforce totals as being attributable to its large retiree population – and that excuse isn’t altogether lacking in merit. An estimated 18.7 percent of South Carolina’s population was over the age of 65 in 2020, according to U.S. Census Bureau data – the tenth highest senior citizen percentage in the nation.

The problem with this argument? All but one of the nine states with larger retiree populations a higher labor participation rate – including six states with labor participation rates above 60 percent.

South Carolina’s chronic economic struggle could become a national issue in the coming months as the 2024 presidential circus heads to the state.

As she campaigns for the White House, former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley has attempted to brand herself as America's "Jobs Governor." Unfortunately, this particular jobs indicator slipped below the 60 percent demarcation line under her watch - and never bounced back. When Haley left office in January 2017, labor participation in the Palmetto State had slipped all the way down to 58.2 percent.

Under current governor Henry McMaster, labor force participation peaked at 58.3 percent in March and April of 2019. By contrast, it reached as high as 68.5 percent during the early 1990s – right around the time the GOP was beginning its takeover of state government.

Remind me ... what was the point of "Republican" rule again?



Will Folks on phone
Will Folks (Brett Flashnick)

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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George Johnson Top fan March 21, 2023 at 6:41 am

No surprise. Why would younger working Americans move to a state where women’s personal choices are being eradicated, public education is threatened by private school funding, and books are being removed from libraries?

Red Uprising March 21, 2023 at 8:49 am

They tell us they do all that they do for the good of the children, so it really makes you wonder. They aren’t fighting for better outcomes for these kids, oh no. Gotta force as many unplanned pregnancies as possible so the maximum number of children can be born into a hellscape of poverty, low education, and subservience to capital and/or the war machine. Just repeal child labor laws and the minimum wage and you have all the child slaves you can muster. If you’re a right-libertarian then just add repealing age of consent laws.

Labor enjoys protections written in using the blood of those who died working horrible jobs in awful conditions and those who were murdered in cold blood by capital’s mercenaries and the state’s troops for daring to strike and protest over it. Part of that blood is the blood of child laborers, children forced to work in coal mines, or in factories or mills, children who were burned or cut, crushed, mangled, lost limbs, lost lives for the sake of profit. This is what conservatives are at this very moment trying to return us to.

Socialism or barbarism.

Appius Top fan March 21, 2023 at 8:45 am

Thank God we just passed a $1.3 billon dollar handout to an untested company promising unicorns and a chicken in every pot. That’ll surely fix all our problems.

All praise for a General Assembly that passed this deal in record time.

I wonder who got kickbacks. Democrats would certainly be at the top of the list, since this is a crony hanger-on from Build Back Better.

Remember that folks, we didn’t build anything, and it certainly wasn’t better.

But this doesn’t pass without serious Republican buyouts. Hope somebody at fits has fun with this.

Sam March 21, 2023 at 11:59 am

The radical religious extremists in the Republican Party are running younger, working aged people out of SC with their radical, anti-freedom policies.

Have fun with all the retired MAGA goons that have moved to your State over the past few years?.

Tom March 27, 2023 at 10:52 am

New York, California, Oregon, Washington State, and New Jersey all have higher labor participation rates than SC and higher taxes. It ain’t the taxes, bucko.

This Republican worship of lower taxes for the rich is mindless. Our federal deficit has skyrocketed because of lower and lower taxes for the rich under Republican administrations. Now we can’t afford SS, Medicare and to defend ourselves. All these things have been sacrificed by Republicans seeking lower taxes for the rich, and lower wages for the workers.


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