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?
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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