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South Carolina’s Perilously Weak Employment Situation Persists

Palmetto State politicians need to adopt a new approach to economic development …

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The most important jobs number to follow is labor participation. Not unemployment – which is basically a political factoid spoon-fed to the press – but labor participation. If you want to know how well a state (or nation) is faring in terms of employing its citizens, labor participation is the number you want to look at.

Unlike the unemployment rate – which tracks 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.

And gainful employment, of course, is foundational to the sort of sustained income growth that drives prosperity.

This news outlet has covered labor participation for years in South Carolina – documenting the extent to which the Palmetto State has continued to fall further behind the rest of the nation on this vital jobs measure – and correspondingly, on income growth and prosperity.



Our goal in covering this number is simple: Holding leaders accountable for how their policies are working … or in this case, not working.

As we previously reported, new data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) showed South Carolina hitting a new record low of 55.8 percent on this indicator in January 2023. Only two states – West Virginia (54.7 percent) and Mississippi (54.4 percent) – fared worse.

In February, the number ticked up modestly to 55.9 percent – but South Carolina once again ranked third-worst nationally. By contrast, national labor participation ticked up to 62.5 percent last month – its highest reading since the immediate aftermath of Covid-19.

You can plot the divergence for yourself courtesy of this graph from the amazingly intrepid (intrepidly amazing) Jenn Wood

This growing gap comes as purportedly “Republican” supermajorities in the S.C. General Assembly keep doling out crony capitalist subsidies to select corporations rather than providing long-overdue broad-based tax relief for all income-earners.

The trend continues to escalate, too, even though many of these command economic ventures have proven to be spectacular failures. This session, the GOP supermajority fast-tracked a $1.3 billion incentives package for Scout Motors – yet has refused to provide so much as a penny in relief to small businesses or individual taxpayers.

This top-down, crony capitalist approach has been failing South Carolina for years. We know this because labor participation was humming along as high as 68.5 percent during the early 1990s – right around the time GOP leaders took control of state government.

As my news outlet has repeatedly reminded lawmakers, the overwhelming majority of jobs in South Carolina are created by small businesses (sole proprietorships, partnerships, LLCs, etc.). Not only are these small businesses not receiving crony capitalist subsidies – they are paying for them. They are also paying the highest marginal income tax rate in the southeast – which is another major disincentive to job growth, income growth and prosperity in the Palmetto State.

Gotta love that “Republican” rule, right?



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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Observer April 3, 2023 at 10:08 pm

Young educated people are leaving red states in droves.

Simple answer.

CongareeCatfish Top fan April 4, 2023 at 10:21 am

While I am generally against market-distorting subsidies and “crony capitalism” I think Will is vastly over simplifying the causes of our low labor participation rate. He says nothing about the huge influx of retirees, the shocking amount of money the “welfare sttate” pays people such that it is better for them not to work, and the fact that many married couples have chosen to make the sacrifices to have one parent at home full time. And there are still other causes….this cake has many layers.


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