South Carolina Employment Situation: September 2023

Labor participation uptick pauses …

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South Carolina’s impressive 2023 employment uptick hit the pause button last month, with the critical labor participation rate remaining exactly where it was a month ago.

Is it just a pause, though? A plateau? Or the start of another sustained downturn?

We shall see …

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)’ latest data showed this key indicator holding steady at 57 percent during the month of September. As was the case in August, the Palmetto State was tied with Alabama for the third worst reading in the entire nation. Only West Virginia (55.1 percent) and Mississippi (54.1 percent) fared worse. Nationally, labor participation also remained unchanged – holding at 62.8 percent.

Deo Gratia Mississippi, right?

Courtesy of the woman who serves as the heartbeat of our media outlet – researcher director Jenn Wood – here is a visual look at the trend lines …

September was the first month of 2023 in which South Carolina’s labor participation rate failed to register an increase. Prior to that, the indicator had climbed by 1.2 percent over the previous seven months after hitting a record low of 55.8 percent in December and January. While I suspect seasonal adjustments will smooth out those numbers at some point, for now the bounce back marks a “significant and rapid increase for an indicator that moves very slowly and incrementally over time.”

Those of you new to our audience may wonder why we analyze labor participation as opposed to the widely watched (and much discussed) unemployment rate.

The answer? 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.

For those of you keeping score at home, there were an estimated 2,461,568 people in the state’s labor force in August – including 2,389,899 who were gainfully employed and 71,699 who were unemployed but actively looking for work. Those numbers weren’t enough to move the labor participation rate – but they dropped the Palmetto State’s unemployment rate to 2.9 percent, its lowest reading since February 2020.

“South Carolina continues to soar!” governor Henry McMaster noted in touting the latter (for public consumption) number.

If only that were so …



As previously noted, “Republican” leaders – including McMaster – 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.

The problem? So-called “Republican” supermajorities in the S.C. General Assembly 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.

They have gift-wrapped all manner of corporate welfare deals … while hanging small businesses out to dry.

“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.

Count on this media outlet to continue providing detailed reporting on the jobs metrics that matter … giving our audience a full picture of the Palmetto State’s employment situation, not just the specific glimpse politicians and television anchors want you to see.



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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