South Carolina Workforce Rebound Continues

Most critical employment indicator hits a two-year high …

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Labor participation in South Carolina continued its rebound in August – with this key employment indicator climbing to its highest level in two years. The sustained spike means the Palmetto State’s workforce is expanding – both in actual numbers and as a percentage of South Carolina’s working age population.

According to the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), labor participation in the Palmetto State climbed another 0.1 percent last month to reach 57 percent – its highest reading since July 2021. And while South Carolina is tied with Alabama for the third-worst mark in the nation (ahead of only Mississippi and West Virginia), this indicator has climbed 1.2 percent over the last seven consecutive months after hitting a record low of 55.8 percent in December and January.

That may not sound like a big deal, but as I have previously noted it represents a “significant and rapid increase for an indicator that moves very slowly and incrementally over time.”  The advancements have also been attained without a corresponding spike in unemployment – meaning these new labor force entrants are being added to payrolls, not the unemployment line.

Nationally, labor participation has inched up by 0.3 percent over the same period – hitting a Joe Biden-era high of 62.8 percent.

You can plot the divergence for yourself using this chart from our inimitably amazing research director Jenn Wood

If you are new to this media outlet, you are probably wondering why we are discussing labor participation as opposed to the widely watched (and much discussed) unemployment rate.

That’s easy: 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.

That means you should probably pay attention to these numbers rather than just accepting the pre-packaged, regurgitated pablum that talking heads on local television stations like WIS TV-10 (NBC – Columbia, S.C.) read from their teleprompters.

Anyway, while the past seven months have provided 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, how it has fallen further behind on income growth and prosperity).

Our media outlet has also noted the correlation of these declines 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.

Now? It is struggling to get back to the 60 percent demarcation line … which it last achieved in May 2012.



For those of you keeping score at home, there were an estimated 2,455,394 people in the state’s labor force in August – including 2,382,362 who were gainfully employed and 73,032 who were unemployed but actively looking for work.

While those were certainly encouraging numbers, the fact remains small businesses in South Carolina are struggling. Unfortunately, rather than easing their burdens, purportedly “pro-business” leaders at the State House keep abandoning them in favor of duplicative, ineffectual agencies and corporate welfare.

“Until state leaders refocus their priorities and begin working on behalf of small businesses and individual income earners (i.e. the people who pay their bills), sustained progress on the most critical employment indicators will remain elusive,” I noted this summer in a post on initial unemployment claims.

At least things aren’t getting worse, though …



Will Folks (Dylan Nolan)

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 (soon to be eight) children.



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1 comment

Tom September 25, 2023 at 3:04 pm

The economy is booming. Unemployment is falling and nationwide is near 50-year lows. Biden’s policies are even bringing jobs to deep red SC. You say small business is struggling. How, so? What businesses are we talking about? Surely not all small businesses are struggling. We know hospitality boomed this year, so hotels and restaurants should be doing well. Manufacturing is doing better than it has in decades. Which “small” businesses are struggling? It’s hard to address a problem when its not defined.


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