South Carolina’s anemic workforce – which dipped to record low levels entering 2023 – continued its sustained uptick during July. According to the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), labor participation in the Palmetto State climbed another 0.2 percent last month to hit 56.9 percent.
While that’s still the third-worst number in the country (ahead of only Mississippi and West Virginia), it marked the indicator’s sixth consecutive month moving in the right direction. Over that period, labor participation in South Carolina has increased a total of 1.1 percent. Meanwhile, the national number has remained stuck at 62.6 percent for the past five months.
As I noted last month, South Carolina is in the midst of a “significant and rapid increase for an indicator that moves very slowly and incrementally over time.” And while I suspect seasonal revisions in early 2024 will smooth things out, there’s no denying this is good news for beleaguered workers in the Palmetto State.
Or at least it would be absent hyper-inflation …
You can plot the divergence between South Carolina and the national number on this chart prepared by our esteemed research director, Jenn Wood.
New members of our audience (welcome!) are probably wondering why we are discussing labor participation as opposed to the widely watched (and much discussed) unemployment rate.
As I’ve often noted in the past, labor participation is the most important jobs metric. 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 better indicator of the extent to which people are gainfully employed … or, not.
While the past six months have provided us with an encouraging outlier, Jenn’s chart shows how the Palmetto State has fallen further behind the rest of the nation on this vital jobs measure in recent years (and correspondingly, on income growth and prosperity). My media outlet has also noted the correlation of this decline with the ascension of so-called “Republican” supermajorities in the S.C. General Assembly – legislatures which have invested billions in new revenue on bloated bureaucracies and crony capitalist subsidies as opposed to providing long-overdue broad-based tax relief for all income-earners.
“Republican” leaders have presided over the Palmetto State’s steady employment collapse over the past thirty-plus years. To wit: Labor participation was humming along as high as 68.5 percent when the GOP began its takeover of state government in the early 1990s.
It hasn’t eclipsed 60 percent since May of 2012. Eleven years ago.
Does that make this a partisan issue? Not really. The white Democrats who preceded Republicans in power charted a similar (albeit less expensive) course – and much of the excessive government growth over the past two decades has been advanced by a bipartisan coalition of fiscally liberal GOP politicians (many of them former Democrats)
For those of you keeping score at home, there were an estimated 2,447,980 people who were part of the state’s workforce in July – including 2,370,882 people who were gainfully employed and 77,098 who were unemployed but actively looking for work.
While these employment trend lines obviously look better for South Carolina, the onset of high inflation – attributable to incessant money printing and overspending during the administrations of Barack Obama, Donald Trump and Joe Biden – keeps dragging down any measurable improvement in quality of life. In fact, rising prices are forcing more people work multiple jobs to make ends meet – or keeping them from making purchases which could stimulate a real, sustained economic recovery.
Look for an updated report on income levels in the Palmetto State soon …
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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